The long-awaited maiden flight of an experimental mini-helicopter valued at $ 80 millionwill pause while engineers test software to fix a bug found on Friday during a pre-flight test, NASA announced on Monday.
If all goes well, the team hopes to set a new flight date next week.
The engineers originally expected to clear the Ingenuity helicopter for Sunday takeoff on a 30-second ascent and departure to verify that the 4-pound drone can actually take off, hover, and land autonomously in the ultra-thin Martian atmosphere .
However, during a test on Friday, Ingenuity’s flight computer did not switch from one mode to another as expected because the helicopter’s 4-foot counter-rotating blades were in the process of being rotated. End the test as programmed on board the security software.
JPL announced on Saturday that Ingenuity was undamaged and had tied down a full set of telemetry as directed. A brief status update said the test flight, the first of up to five, would be postponed to at least Wednesday so engineers could review the data to see what went wrong and what might need to be corrected.
On Monday, JPL updated the helicopter’s status page to announce that the flight was on hold pending a software update.
“The Ingenuity team has identified a software solution to the command sequence issue identified on April 9th during a scheduled high-speed spin-up test of the helicopter’s rotors,” the status report said.
“This software update changes the process by which the two flight controls are started so that the hardware and software can safely transition into the flight state. Changes to the flight software are independently checked and validated.”
While the software update is “straightforward,” the update states, “the process of validating and completing the uplink to Ingenuity will take time.”
If all goes well, the engineers will set a new date for the helicopter’s maiden flight next week.
“We are confident that the team can meet this challenge and prepare for Ingenuity’s historic first controlled powered flight on another planet,” said the update. Meanwhile, “ingenuity remains healthy on the Martian surface. Critical functions such as performance, communication, and heat control are stable.”
Ingenuity, collapsed behind a protective shield of rubble, was carried to Mars bolted to the belly of Mars. Seven months after launching from Cape Canaveral on July 30th, Perseverance landed in a targeted Martian crater on February 18th for an ambitious mission to look for evidence of past microbial activity in ancient sea deposits.
Ingenuity has hitched a ride as a technology demonstration experiment. It does not carry any scientific instruments and is not part of the rover’s primary role. The drone was only added to test the feasibility of flight in the thin Martian atmosphere.
If successful, more advanced helicopters could be sent on future missions to Mars to transport scientific instruments to areas that may be inaccessible to rovers or possibly astronauts.