NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter to make first flight attempt on Mars this week

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NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter will make its first flight attempt on Mars this week, after the operation was postponed following a technical delay on Friday.

Part of the Perseverance Rover mission that landed on the red planet in February, the 1.8kg Ingenuity is aiming to become the first vehicle to achieve flight on another planet.

The groundbreaking attempt was scheduled to take place on Sunday April 11, however issues during a high-speed spin test of its rotors on Friday led NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to postpone the debut flight.

According to NASA’s JPL, the command sequence controlling the test ended early due to a watchdog timer expiration, which occurred as it was attempting to transition Ingenuity’s flight computer from ‘Pre-Flight’ to ‘Flight’ mode.

“The watchdog timer oversees the command sequence and alerts the system to any potential issues,” the JPL said in a statement. “It helps the system stay safe by not proceeding if an issue is observed and worked as planned.”

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter unlocked its rotor blades, allowing them to spin freely, on 7 April 2021, the 47th Martian day, or sol, of the mission

Ingenuity will now wait until at least Wednesday April 14 to attempt take off as the JPL team studies telemetry from the disrupted test.

Flying in a controlled manner on Mars is reportedly far more difficult than flying on Earth. Despite gravity on Mars being about one-third that of Earth’s, the helicopter must fly with the assistance of an atmosphere whose pressure at the surface is only 1% that of Earth.

If Ingenuity is successful, engineers will gain invaluable in-flight data from Mars for comparison to the modelling, simulations, and tests performed back on Earth, and NASA will also gain its first hands-on experience operating a rotorcraft remotely at Mars.

According to the space agency, these datasets will be invaluable for potential future Mars missions that could enlist next-generation helicopters to add an aerial dimension to its explorations.

 Learn more about NASA’s Perseverance rover in the April 2021 issue of Robotics & Innovation:

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