NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter is ‘healthy’ but its maiden flight has been delayed and it will now not launch until at least next week due to a software update.
Ingenuity’s trip, which is to be the first-ever powered, controlled flight on another planet, was set for April 11, was delayed until April 14 and is now delayed again.
A high-speed test of the four-pound (1.8 kilogram) helicopter’s rotors on Friday ended earlier than expected due to an alert of a potential issue.
The US space agency has now determined the craft is physically healthy, but requires a software update, which takes time to upload, before it can safely fly.
As the upload has to travel 147 million miles to the Red Planet, its expected the whole process will take up to a week, with a new flight date due to be set next week.
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter is ‘healthy’ but its maiden flight has been delayed and will now not launch until at least next week due to a software update
Ingenuity’s trip, which is to be the first-ever powered, controlled flight on another planet, was set for Sunday 11, was delayed until April 14 and is now delayed again.
MILESTONES TO REACH BEFORE INGENUITY CAN FLY
NASA says there are a number of milestones the development team have to meet before Ingenuity can fly.
- Diagnose the issue and develop potential solutions
- Develop and then validate the software solution
- Upload the software solution to the helicopter on Mars
- Load flight software onto flight controllers
- Boot Ingenuity on the new flight software
Throughout the issues Ingenuity has continued to send information back to Earth, reporting in that it is ‘healthy’.
When it does eventually fly, the plan is to have Ingenuity fly for 30 seconds to take a picture of the Perseverance rover, which touched down on Mars on February 18 with the helicopter attached to its underside.
A command sequence issue was identified on April 9 by the NASA JPL team during a planned high-speed spin-up test of the helicopter’s rotors.
The craft has gone through a number of tests before it can fly on Mars, to ensure each stage is operating as expected.
Over the weekend, the team considered and tested multiple potential solutions to this issue in simulations on Earth.
They discovered that minor modification and reinstallation of Ingenuity’s flight control software was ‘the most robust path forward.’
This 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.
Modifications to the flight software are being independently reviewed and validated by NASA engineers, and will be rolled out to Earth-based testbeds before eventually being sent the millions of miles to Mars to be uploaded to the small 4lb helicopter.
A high-speed test of the four-pound (1.8 kilogram) helicopter’s rotors on Friday ended earlier than expected due to an alert of a potential issue
Ingenuity is expected to soar at some point in the next few weeks from a 33-by-33-foot piece of Martian real estate that is the first airfield on a another planet
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.
A detailed timeline for rescheduling the high-speed spin-up test and first flight is still in process, with NASA saying the plan is to keep a new flight date ‘fluid’.
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.