NASA has decided to reschedule the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter’s first experimental flight to no earlier than April 14, based on the data from the Ingenuity Mars helicopter. NASA had unlocked the rotor blades of its Ingenuity helicopter, thereby allowing them to spin freely, on April 7, 2021.
The helicopter was sent to Mars attached to the belly of the Perseverance rover, which was sent to Mars and landed on the planet on February 18, 2021. The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter will also have the unique distinction of being “the first aircraft humanity has sent to another planet to attempt powered, controlled flight.
The reason why Ingenuity’s flight will matter is because it has been sent to the planet as a ‘technology demonstration.’ NASA will try and demonstrate rotorcraft flight in the extremely thin atmosphere of Mars with this helicopter, which is why the mission is so crucial.
NASA had conducted a high-speed spin test of the motors which resulted in the command sequence controlling the test ending early due to a “watchdog” timer expiration. This transpired as it was trying to transition the flight computer from ‘Pre-Flight’ to ‘Flight’ mode. The Ingenuity Mars helicopter is safe and communicated its full telemetry set to Earth.
The watchdog timer is responsible for overseeing the command sequence and alerting the system in case any potential issues arise. The timer ensures the system stays safe by not proceeding in case of any issues.
The helicopter team are now working on reviewing telemetry to diagnose and understand the issue. Following that, they will reschedule the full-speed test.
JPL, which manages this technology demonstration project for NASA Headquarters built the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. Significant flight performance analysis and technical assistance during the development of the Ingenuity’s were provided by NASA’s Ames Research Center and Langley Research Center.
One of the main goals of the Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, which is set to entail the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The Mars rover is set to characterise the planet’s geology and past climate and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet. The rover is set to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith and will become the first mission to do so.