The helicopter made a quick 25-second hop, providing the Ingenuity team with vital information to help them comprehend why its 53rd flight terminated abruptly.
After an unforeseen stoppage during its last hop, NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has now successfully completed its 54th trip on Mars, marking an important milestone.
For the Perseverance Mars rover science team, the 53rd flight, which was initially intended as a 136-second scouting mission, was created to take pictures of Mars’ surface.
The difficult flight profile entailed falling vertically to 8 feet to hover and take pictures of a rocky outcrop, then flying north for 666 feet at an altitude of 16 feet at a speed of 5.6 mph.
The helicopter’s autonomous flight, however, was only halfway complete when a flight-contingency software was activated, resulting in an immediate landing after 74 seconds.
At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, Teddy Tzanetos, team lead emeritus for Ingenuity, said that a program called ‘LAND_NOW’ was present from the very first mission.
If any off-nominal events are encountered, this program is set up to land the helicopter right away. One similar occurrence during Flight 53 led to an immediate landing.
The Ingenuity team thinks that a problem with synchronization between image frames from the helicopter’s navigation camera and data from the rotorcraft’s inertial measurement unit was what led to the early landing. The helicopter had previously suffered dropped picture frames while in flight.
In order to mitigate the impact of dropped photos, the crew modified the flight software following a comparable incident on Flight 6 on May 22, 2021. But during Flight 53, there were more dropped navigational pictures than the software patch could manage.
Tzanetos regards the episode as a useful case study for future aircraft operating on other worlds despite the unanticipated landing.
Ingenuity is prepared to continue its investigation of Mars, the crew is confident after the success of Flight 54, and they are striving to understand what happened during Flight 53.
Innovation, which started out on Mars as a technological experiment, has shown that it is possible to fly there. It has successfully performed multiple missions since it took off on April 19, 2021, proving how aerial scouting could aid future exploration of Mars and other planets.
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