Software issue delays Ingenuity Mars helicopter’s first flight
History will have to wait just a little bit longer as the first flight of the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars has been delayed by at least a week while engineers update the craft’s software.
Since its deployment onto the Martian surface from underneath Perseverance on April 3, 2021, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California have been gradually testing Ingenuity’s systems. This started including unlocking the vehicles rotors and then gradually spinning them up beginning with 50 rotations per minute.
The final test before the first flight was to be a spin up of the rotors to about 2,400 rotations per minute. This test occurred on April 9, but according to a JPL mission status update, the 1.8-kilogram helicopter’s “watchdog timer” registered off-nominal readings from the system that drives the aircrafts motor.
“This occurred as it was trying to transition the flight computer from ‘Pre-Flight’ to ‘Flight’ mode,” the mission update continues. “The helicopter is safe and healthy and communicated its full telemetry set to Earth.”
While the hardware itself is healthy, the software components of the helicopter’s flight system will have to be modified and reinstalled on Ingenuity before it can take flight.
“Over the weekend, the team considered and tested multiple potential solutions to this issue, concluding that minor modification and reinstallation of Ingenuity’s flight control software is the most robust path forward,” an April 12 JPL mission update said. “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.
Uplinking and verifying the software is expected to take “some time,” however. As such, a new target date for the first flight of Ingenuity is currently not expected until sometime next week, pending the successful installation and testing of the modified flight software.
The Ingenuity helicopter is a technology demonstration with up to five flights planned over a roughly 30-day period following its deployment on the surface.
Having a life-long interest in crewed space flight, Desforges’ passion materialized on a family vacation in 1999 when he was able see the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on STS-96. Since then, Desforges has been an enthusiast of space exploration efforts. He lived in Orlando, Florida for a year, during which time he had the opportunity to witness the flights of the historic CRS-4 and EFT-1 missions in person at Cape Canaveral. He earned his Private Pilot Certificate in 2017, holds a degree in Aviation Management, and currently works as an Operations Analyst in the aviation industry in Georgia.