NASA delays first flight of Mars helicopter

WASHINGTON — NASA introduced April 10 it was suspending the primary flight try of the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars by no less than three days after detecting an issue throughout a remaining pre-flight take a look at.

In a short assertion, NASA stated that the command sequence for an April 9 take a look at of the car’s rotors, the place they’d spin as much as full velocity, ended early when a “watchdog” timer expired. That timer oversees the command sequence and prevents the take a look at from continuing if there is a matter.

NASA didn’t elaborate on the precise situation that aborted the take a look at, past that it happened when the flight laptop on the 1.8-kilogram helicopter was making an attempt to go from “pre-flight” to “flight” mode. Mission engineers will reschedule the take a look at as soon as they consider the telemetry from the car.

That take a look at was the final earlier than a primary flight of Ingenuity, which was scheduled for the night of April 11. NASA says that flight try will now happen no sooner than April 14.

“It’s going to be a really cautious flight,” stated Tim Canham, Ingenuity operations lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, throughout an April 9 briefing. The helicopter will fly to an altitude of three meters and hover, rotating within the path of the Perseverance rover that will likely be observing the flight from a protected distance of about 65 meters. The helicopter will then descend and land, about 40 seconds after takeoff.

“We’re going to be taking a really conservative flight to essentially nail the primary flight,” stated MiMi Aung, undertaking supervisor for Ingenuity at JPL. “After that, we’ll be taking bolder and bolder flights. We’ll be going larger and additional.”

The mission has 5 flights deliberate over a 30-day interval. After every flight engineers will overview telemetry from Ingenuity, in addition to photographs from each the helicopter itself and from Perseverance. That course of will take a few days given the quantity of information, notably snippets of video that undertaking officers hope will present Ingenuity in flight. “We’re simply taking all of the downlink we are able to get from all of the orbiters so we are able to get again as a lot as doable,” stated Elsa Jensen, the uplink operations lead for the Mastcam-Z digicam on Perseverance, which is able to observe the flight.

If the primary flight is successful, Aung stated they anticipate to carry out the second flight in 4 days. That can lower to a three-day cadence for subsequent flights. These later flights will embody going to altitudes of as much as 5 meters and going 50 meters downrange and again.

“As soon as we get to the fourth and fifth flights, we’ll have enjoyable,” she stated. “We actually wish to push our car to the restrict. It’s not on daily basis you get to check a rotorcraft and do an experiment on Mars. After the third flight, we’re going to be very adventurous.”

By that fifth flight, she stated the mission will take extra dangers with the car with a higher likelihood that the car won’t survive. That’s to maximise the worth of this expertise demonstration, but additionally displays that Ingenuity has a set 30-day interval to conduct these checks earlier than the principle Perseverance mission has to proceed. Ingenuity depends on Perseverance as an information relay and can’t function with out it.

“Even when it survives, we’re going to flip again the keys to the rover crew,” she stated. “Ken Farley, the undertaking scientist for Perseverance, has been so beneficiant. He gave us 30 invaluable days on Mars, after which Perseverance actually should go on to the first mission it’s on.”

Throughout growth of Ingenuity, engineers examined it in situations simulating the decreased gravity and tenuous environment of Mars. Up till the problem earlier than its remaining pre-flight take a look at, the car had been working effectively, deploying itself from the underside of Perseverance after which charging its batteries utilizing a small photo voltaic panel and briefly testing its rotors at low velocity.

Aung stated that gave her confidence within the probabilities of success on that first flight. “The one uncertainty stays the precise surroundings of Mars,” she stated, particularly winds which were averaging about six meters per second. She famous, although, that Ingenuity was examined on Earth in winds as much as 11 meters per second, and simulations present the helicopter’s management system can deal with winds approaching 30 meters per second.

“We’re actually excited. It could possibly be an incredible day,” Canham stated of the primary flight. “We’re all nervous, however we’ve confidence that we put within the work and time, and that we’ve the precise folks to do the job.”

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