NASA delays Ingenuity helicopter’s first flight on Mars

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter, originally scheduled to fly on Mars Sunday, is now set to take off no earlier than April 14, the space agency said.

The helicopter returned data to mission teams on Earth late Friday evening that caused NASA to reschedule the first flight. The team reports that the helicopter remains safe and healthy and is sharing all of its data.

Ingenuity conducted a high-speed test of its rotors Friday. During this test, the command sequence ended early due to a watchdog timer that expired.

This early end of the test happened when the helicopter was trying to shift the flight computer from preflight into flight mode.
The timer monitors the command sequence, and if any issues arise, it alerts the system and maintains the helicopter’s safety by shutting down until the issue can be resolved.

In this case, the timer did exactly what it was supposed to do, according to the agency.

Meanwhile, the helicopter’s team on Earth is reviewing the data so they can determine the issue that shut down the test. After this review, the high-speed test of the helicopter’s rotors will be rescheduled.

When Ingenuity is able to fly on Mars for the first time, the 4-pound helicopter will fly for about 40 seconds total. The helicopter will spin up its two 4-foot blades, rise up 10 feet in the air, hover, make a turn, take a photo, and touch back down on Mars.

If this first flight is successful, Ingenuity could fly up to four more times this month.

The little helicopter has checked off multiple milestones so far, like wiggling its blades and surviving the freezing cold nights on Mars.

Now, it needs to autonomously fly through the thin Martian atmosphere, with no help from its teams on Earth. Radio signals take 15 minutes and 27 seconds to cross the current gap between Earth and Mars, which spans 173 million miles.

The Perseverance rover, which helps the helicopter and its mission team on Earth communicate with each other, will receive the flight instructions from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The rover will then send those plans on to the helicopter. Perseverance will be parked at an overlook 215 feet away from the helicopter so it can safely watch the flight and capture images and videos.