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Doing something for the first time is often difficult. NASA knows this all too well, of course, but it’s experiencing it again with the Ingenuity Helicopter. After a high-speed rotor-spinning test didn’t go as planned, NASA delayed the first flight attempt until April 14 at the earliest.
But now we’ll need to wait a bit longer.
The Ingenuity team identified a software solution for the command sequence issue that occurred during the aforementioned test. Over the weekend, the team considered and tested multiple potential solutions to this issue, but ultimately decided that a “minor modification and reinstallation” of Ingenuity’s flight control software is the best path forward.
NASA said the software update will modify the process by which the two flight controllers boot up, allowing the hardware and software to safely transition to the flight state. While the development of the new software change is straightforward, the process of validating it and completing its uplink to Ingenuity will take some time.
“Our best estimate of a targeted flight date is fluid right now, but we are working toward achieving these milestones and will set a flight date next week,” NASA said.
The process of updating Ingenuity’s flight control software will follow established processes for validation with careful and deliberate steps to move the new software through the rover to the base station and then to the helicopter. Intermediate milestones include:
- Diagnose the issue and develop potential solutions
- Develop/validate and upload software
- Load flight software onto flight controllers
- Boot Ingenuity on new flight software
Once NASA has passed those milestones, it will prepare Ingenuity for its first flight, which will take several sols, or Mars days.
“Ingenuity continues to be healthy on the surface on Mars. Critical functions such as power, communications, and thermal control are stable,” NASA said. “It is not unexpected for a technology demonstration like this to encounter challenges that need to be worked in real time. The high-risk, high-reward approach we have taken to the first powered, controlled flight on another planet allows us to push the performance envelope in ways we could not with a mission designed to last for years such as Perseverance. In the meantime, while the Ingenuity team does its work, Perseverance will continue to do science with its suite of instruments and is gearing up for a test of the MOXIE technology demonstration.”
Bob Balaram, chief engineer on the Ingenuity Helicopter, was recently featured on NASA’s Small Steps, Giant Leaps podcast describing what it took to develop the helicopter and what to expect during the experimental flights. You can listen to the full podcast below.
Editor’s Note: Follow along The Robot Report’s complete coverage of the Mars 2020 Mission.