On 10th April, NASA announces the postponement of the first-ever flight which is to attempt the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars. The postpone is by a minimum of 3 days after the detection of a challenge during a final pre-flight test. NASA mentions that the command sequence of the vehicle’s rotors test is scheduled for 9th April. At the test, the vehicle spins at full speed however, it ends early when a watchdog timer expired. The timer overlooks the command sequence and it stops the test in case of any issues.
NASA did not elaborate on the particular challenge that ceases the test. Further, the incident took place when the flight on the helicopter tried to switch from “pre-flight” to “flight” mode. The weight of the helicopter is 1.8-kilogram. The project engineers look to reschedule the test after the evaluation of the incident. Before the first flight of Ingenuity, the test was last with a schedule dated 11th April evening. However, NASA said that now the best will take place only after 14th April.
Tim Canham – Ingenuity operations lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said on 9th April during a briefing, “The flight is going to be very careful.” Detailed specifications of the helicopter flight are as follows:
- Helicopter to fly to an altitude of three meters and hover
- Then it rotates in the direction of the Perseverance rover
- It will then observe the flight from a safe distance of about 65 meters
- After which, the helicopter descends and lands, about 40 seconds after take-off
MiMi Aung, project manager for Ingenuity at JPL said, “We are taking a very conservative flight in order to nail the first flight. After which we will be ready to take bolder flights. We will move ahead and higher.”
The said mission has a plan of five flights over a 30-day span. Each flight engineer reviews the telemetry from Ingenuity along with images from the helicopter and Perseverance. This process may take a couple of days considering the volume of data, particularly the video clips that project officials expect will show Ingenuity in flight. Elsa Jensen is the uplink operations lead for the Mastcam-Z camera on Perseverance who observes the flight. She said, “We are only taking all the downlink we are capable of getting from all the orbiters in order to have back up.”
Aung said that with the success of the first flight, the second one follows within 4 days. This decreases to a three-day cadence for subsequent flights. The later flights include reaching altitudes of up to 5 meters and going 50 meters downrange and return. “Once we reach the fourth and fifth flight, there will be fun. The vehicle must have the push till the limit. There is no opportunity every day to test a rotorcraft and do an experiment on Mars. With the success of the third flight, we plan to be adventurous.” she adds.
According to Aung, by the fifth flight, the mission takes more risks with the vehicle. With higher risks, there is a greater possibility of the vehicle not surviving. The moto is to maximize the value of technology demonstration. However, it also shows that Ingenuity has a fixed 30-day span to conduct the tests before the main Perseverance mission must proceed. Ingenuity relies on Perseverance and cannot operate without it since Perseverance acts as a data relay.
Aung says, “By any chance, if the vehicle survives, we will turn the keys back to the rover team. Ken Farley being the project scientist for Perseverance is very generous. With his help, we got 30 days on Mars after which the Perseverance must continue its primary missions.”
Canham mentions for the first flight, “We are full of excitement and it could be a memorable day. On the same hand, we are really nervous however, we are confident about the hard work and time put in by the right people to achieve our target.”