NASA said Saturday that engineers have decided to postpone the Ingenuity helicopter’s first flight to Mars until at least Wednesday, April 14, after a minor computer failure during a rotary-wing rotation test late Friday. It has been confirmed that the small aircraft itself is healthy, but engineers need more time to review the telemetry generated by the unexpected episode before proceeding.
Ingenuity, a four-pound mini-drone that arrived on Mars on February 18, is attached to NASA’s Perseverance rover and was originally scheduled to conduct its first flight test later Sunday (noon Mars time). The first data on the success of the flight attempt is expected to arrive around 4 a.m. EST on Monday.
But high-speed rotor test data conducted Friday showed that the test sequence timer expired early and ended early, NASA said. This occurs when Ingenuity’s computer tries to switch from pre-flight mode to airplane mode.
Ingenuity’s timer is a software-based dispute program that oversees the helicopter’s test sequence and alerts engineers if there is anything that doesn’t look normal. “If you observe a problem and work as planned, it can help keep the system safe,” NASA said in a blog post.
NASA stresses that the craft itself is healthy, and Ingenuity remains in good contact with engineers at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
“Ingenuity” was deployed to the surface of Mars by Perseverance on April 4, opening a 31-day life cycle with five flight tests planned. In the first flight demonstration, the helicopter will rise 10 feet above the surface and hover for about 30 seconds, aiming to make the first-ever human powered flight in another world (known as the Mars Wright Brothers). Depending on the first test, subsequent tests will involve “Ingenuity” soaring to a higher altitude and orbiting in the runway-shaped flight zone of Mars’ Jezero Crater.