UPDATE: Engineers at JPL have already defined a software problem and found a solution. Validation and preflight preparations are in progress, and NASA estimates that the first flight will take place (no earlier than) next week.
You’re looking forward to a “Wright Brothers Moment” on the red planet, right? Even NASA has set up a live post-flight video! However, that video disappeared because Ingenuity’s first flight was delayed. Here’s why NASA decided to do so.
The Problem Behind It
When the Ingenuity helicopter is conducts its full-speed blade spin-up test, it spun its blades to around 2400 RPM, which is fast. That’s because the Martian atmosphere is very thin, and an aircraft needs a lot of energy to generate enough lift. What’s more, the full-speed test is the last milestone before that takes off, but something went wrong, so NASA delays the flight while they troubleshoot the problem.
However, we have to be grateful that it’s probably a software problem instead of a hardware problem. Thus, it can be fixed on Earth. But before introducing the problem, we have to talk about the thing that stopped the test prematurely.
The watchdog timer doesn’t allow the helicopter to continue what it’s doing if a problem appeared and is discovered. It worked as planned because it detected an issue and terminated the test.
When the helicopter is switching from the “pre-flight” mode to the “flight” mode, something went wrong. However, it is not clear that which error occurred. That’s because NASA is still studying the messages from Ingenuity and figuring out what went wrong.
A NASA article written on April 5 stated that “Failing any one of these milestones would’ve grounded the experiment.” That’s the reason why the helicopter’s first flight is delayed, and NASA has to fix the problem and re-run the test so that it is ready to fly again.
An Introduction to the Helicopter
Even though Ingenuity encountered a potentially fatal problem, we should appreciate the incredible engineering behind the scenes. The Mars Helicopter is very light because it has to fly in the thin Martian atmosphere. It only consists of essential tools but not scientific instruments. There is an antenna, a solar panel, a fuselage with computers, heaters, and batteries, landing legs, rotors, and two cameras.
Ingenuity is in a high-risk, high-reward mission. Therefore, if the Mars Helicopter fails, it won’t affect the Mars 2020 mission much. However, it will bring great benefits to future Mars exploration by adding the aerial dimension if it succeeds. Therefore, even though Ingenuity failed one of its tests, NASA will try to save the helicopter until a conclusion is made.
Although the Mars Helicopter Ingenuity is grounded for a few days, we have to be grateful that NASA detected the problem early and tries to fix it. Imagine what would happen if the problem appeared in flight. Well, the helicopter would crash, and the mission would fail! We hope that the Mars Helicopter will get well soon and fly on schedule!
References and Credits
- (2021, April 11). Mars Helicopter Flight Delayed to No Earlier than April 14 – NASA Mars. Retrieved April 11, 2021, from https://mars.nasa.gov/technology/helicopter/status/291/mars-helicopter-flight-delayed-to-no-earlier-than-april-14/
- Meghan Bartels. (2021, April 11). NASA delays Mars helicopter Ingenuity’s 1st flight to April 14 | Space. Retrieved April 11, 2021, from https://www.space.com/nasa-mars-helicopter-flight-delay
- Ashley Strickland. (2021, April 11). Ingenuity helicopter’s first flight on Mars delayed – CNN. Retrieved April 11, 2021, from https://www.cnn.com/2021/04/10/world/mars-ingenuity-helicopter-flight-delay-scn-trnd/index.html
- (2021, April 5). 6 Things to Know About NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter | NASA. Retrieved April 11, 2021, from https://www.nasa.gov/feature/jpl/6-things-to-know-about-nasas-ingenuity-mars-helicopter
- (2021, January 27). Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Landing Press Kit. Retrieved April 11, 2021, from https://mars.nasa.gov/system/downloadable_items/45586_ingenuity_landing_press_kit.pdf
- (2021, April 8). Mars Helicopter – NASA Mars. Retrieved April 11, 2021, from https://mars.nasa.gov/technology/helicopter/
- (2021, February 20). NASA’s Mars Helicopter Reports In | NASA. Retrieved April 11, 2021, from https://www.nasa.gov/feature/jpl/nasa-s-mars-helicopter-reports-in