This is a chronicle of the journeys of the Mars Rover Perseverance and the helicopter Ingenuity, which it carried in its underside to Mars. Ingenuity was the first vehicle designed to fly in the atmosphere of another planet.
It was intended only as a proof-of-concept vehicle, whose missiona and goals after four or five test flights would then be complete. But it accomplished that, and more: it went on to fly along with Perseverance, with its cameras scouting for the best paths and destinations for the rover.
It has overcome problems and endured in an environment that exceeded the limits of its design. Its successes have gone far beyond all expectations, and its accomplishments have excited and captured the hearts of everyone.
If all does go according to plan, after being gently deployed from Perseverance, Ingenuity will make at least five short hops over the Martian surface, flying as high as about 15 feet.
Weighing less than four pounds with a main body the size of a softball, there's no room for any science experiments on Ingenuity. Martian science was never the goal of the helicopter in the first place. "This is just a demonstration of technology to show that flying on Mars is possible, but eventually we'd like to design and fly a helicopter on Mars that actually has a science mission."
The rover touched down on Mars' Gale Crater on Aug. 5, 2012. Since touchdown, the rover journeyed more than 14 miles (23 kilometers), drilling 26 rock samples and scooping six soil samples along the way as it revealed that ancient Mars was indeed suitable for life. Studying the textures and compositions of ancient rock strata is helping scientists piece together how the Martian climate changed over time, losing its lakes and streams until it became the cold desert it is today.
The UAE probe will near Mars late Monday, and the mission will make a final, 27-minute orbital insertion burn, or correction, starting at 10:30 a.m. EST Tuesday. The Hope probe's two-year mission is to gain the most complete data about Mars' atmosphere ever, including Mars summers and winters, day and night, at all locations around the planet. The Emirati government chose a Mars mission to ignite space research and industry there, according to the UAE space agency. If successful, the UAE would become the fifth nation to reach Mars, following the United States, Russia, China and India.
Studying the atmosphere also is part of the Chinese Tianwen-1 orbiter's mission, which also carries a rover. The exact time of arrival at the Red Planet on Wednesday hasn't been disclosed by the China National Space Administration. The Chinese spacecraft conducted its fourth flight-path correction Friday, the agency reported.
NASA's Perseverance rover will make a brief automated trip through the atmosphere to land in a crater filled with boulders and fields of sand. Perseverance is due to make fiery entry into the Mars atmosphere at roughly 12:30 p.m. EST on Feb 18.  Perseverance's quest will be to find signs of ancient life in Mars' Jezero Crater, thought to be an ancient lakebed and river delta.
The first helicopter to fly on another planet -- Ingenuity -- is riding underneath Perseverance. NASA expects to test the helicopter after the rover drops it on the surface, sometime in the next few months.
A key objective of Perseverance's mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life.
The rover will characterize the planet's geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).
Traversing Mars' Jezero Crater — This image depicts a possible area through which the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover could traverse across Jezero Crater.
Ingenuity is a small helicopter on the Martian surface that landed alongside NASA's Perseverance rover. While initially stored within the rover, the solar-powered vehicle will be deployed onto the Martian surface. To launch, Ingenuity will use a small helipad, also stowed in Perseverance. While Ingenuity weighs 1.8kg on Earth, this drops to 0.68kg on Mars due to the planet's lower gravity. The craft is equipped with two cameras, one colour with a horizon-facing view for terrain images, and one black-and-white for navigation.
Mass: 1.8kg = 4lbs;
Height: 50cm = 20";
Rotor span: 1.2m = 47";
Batteries: 6x Sony Li-ion,
delivering 220W power;
Max flight time: 90s;
Max flights per day: 1
By comparison, the Perseverance rover is 9'6" long, 7'3" high, weighs 2260lbs., and has 110 watts of power. Its wheels are 20.5" in diameter.
The Ingenuity Mars helicopter was originally scheduled for its first flight in April 2021. However, while possible flight zones are examined, an exact date is yet to be confirmed. The vehicle will remain attached to the Perseverance rover between 30 and 60 days after its 18 February landing. Once deployed, Ingenuity will have to successfully charge itself through solar power before attempting up to five test flights within a 31-day period.
Fitted with two cameras, the helicopter is expected to transmit images back to Earth (via the Perseverance rover and Deep Space Network) of its flight.
To make more than one flight, Ingenuity must survive the extremely low temperatures of the planet's surface (which plummets to -90°C at night outside of Perseverance's belly). Tests on Earth indicate the helicopter should survive this chill, but this doesn't guarantee the craft won't encounter problems.
The Martian helicopter's first flight will be a basic one: a simple 20-30 second low-altitude hover. Ingenuity will be tasked with climbing at a speed of 1m/s to an altitude of about 3m, where it should hover for 20 seconds before descending back to ground. If successful, later flights will attempt further distances and higher altitudes. Ingenuity is capable of flying up to 90 seconds, managing 50 metres at a time (at a maximum height of 4.5m). Such a trip would use 8.75 watt-hours of power, less energy than is stored by an iPhone 12 battery.
NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter is targeting no earlier than April 8 for the first-ever attempt at power and controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet.
"Once we start the deployment there is no turning back. All activities are closely coordinated, irreversible, and dependent on each other."
Before Ingenuity can even try to fly in the Martian atmosphere, the 4-pound rotorcraft must first be deployed. On Mar. 21, the Perseverance Mars rover – which carried Ingenuity to the red planet – dropped its debris shield that protected the helicopter and is currently en route to the 33-by-33-foot "airfield" where Ingenuity will attempt its first flight. Once the rover reaches its flight zone, it will take about a week to get the helicopter up and running. The Mars Helicopter Delivery System will rotate and release the helicopter about 5 inches above the surface. Perseverance then has 25 hours to move away to its "rover observation location."
Ingenuity – which will be autonomous and charged by its own solar panel – has a month-long window for up to five test flights. Once the rover is charged, has survived a frigid Martian night, and is ready to try to fly, Perseverance will receive and relay flight instructions to the helicopter.
"Several factors will determine the precise time for the flight, including modeling of local wind patterns plus measurements taken by the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) aboard Perseverance. Ingenuity will run its rotors to 2,537 rpm and, if all final self-checks look good, lift off. After climbing at a rate of about 3 feet per second...the helicopter will hover at 10 feet...above the surface for up to 30 seconds. Then, the Mars Helicopter will descend and touch back down on the Martian surface."
Several hours later, Perseverance will pass data and possibly images and video from its cameras to the JPL team to determine whether or not their first flight was a success. Using what is provided to them, the engineers will then understand how best to proceed.
In recognition of Ingenuity's historic flight, a small amount of the material that covered one of the wings of the Wright brothers' Flyer is aboard Ingenuity – adhered beneath the helicopter's solar panel with an insulative tape. Similarl, the Apollo 11 NASA crew flew a different piece of the material and a splinter of wood from the Wright Flyer during the July 1969 Moon Landing.
The Perseverance rover has been carrying Ingenuity in its belly as mission teams prepare for the craft's first flight, which is set to take place no sooner than April 11. On April 3 the rover dropped Ingenuity onto the surface of Mars, where it would have to survive temperatures as low as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius). Indications are that the 4-lbs. (1.8-kilograms) helicopter survived its first night on its own.
There are still a number of tasks that the mission team will have to accomplish before Ingenuity is ready to fly. First, the team will charge the craft using its solar array and ensure that it is collecting and using energy and power as they anticipate. This is critical, as energy from the craft's solar array will both keep it warm overnight and power it for flight.
Next, the helicopter's blades will be unlocked. The team will then actually spin the rotor blades for the first time, slowly at just about 50 revolutions per minute, and then at full speed, about 2,400 rpm.
After the successful completion of these steps, the team will have Ingenuity lift up and fly for the first time, hover autonomously for about 30 seconds and then land. The helicopter will reach about 15 feet (4.6 meters) in the sky with this flight.
With the success of its inaugural flight, the Ingenuity mission team will fly the craft four more times within the 30 sols, or Mars days, (about 31 Earth days) anticipated for the mission. The average flight length will be about 90 seconds.
If all proceeds as planned, the 4-pound (1.8-kg) rotorcraft is expected to take off from Mars' Jezero Crater Sunday, April 11, at 10:54 p.m. EDT, hovering 10 feet (3 meters) above the surface for up to 30 seconds. Mission control specialists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California expect to receive the first data from the first flight attempt the following morning at around 4:15 a.m. EDT. NASA TV will air live coverage of the team as they receive the data, with commentary beginning at 3:30 a.m. EDT.
“While Ingenuity carries no science instruments, the little helicopter is already making its presence felt across the world, as future leaders follow its progress toward an unprecedented first flight,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters. “We do tech demos like this to push the envelope of our experience and provide something on which the next missions and the next generation can build. Just as Ingenuity was inspired by the Wright brothers, future explorers will take off using both the data and inspiration from this mission.”
Flying in a controlled manner on Mars is far more difficult than flying on Earth. Even though gravity on Mars is about one-third that of Earth's, the helicopter must fly with the assistance of an atmosphere whose pressure at the surface is only 1% that of Earth. If successful, engineers will gain invaluable in-flight data at Mars for comparison to the modeling, simulations, and tests performed back here on Earth.
Sunday's flight will be autonomous, with Ingenuity's guidance, navigation, and control systems doing the piloting. That's mostly because radio signals will take 15 minutes, 27 seconds to bridge the 173-million-mile (278-million-kilometer) gap between Mars and Earth.
Events leading up to the first flight test begin when the Perseverance rover, which serves as a communications base station for Ingenuity, receives that day's instructions from Earth. Those commands will have travelled from mission controllers at JPL through NASA's Deep Space Network to a receiving antenna aboard Perseverance. Parked at “Van Zyl Overlook,” some 215 feet (65 meters) away, the rover will transmit the commands to the helicopter about an hour later.
At 10:53 p.m. EDT, Ingenuity will begin its preflight checks. The helicopter will repeat the blade-wiggle test it performed three sols prior. If the algorithms running the guidance, navigation, and control systems deem the test results acceptable, they will turn on the inertial measurement unit (an electronic device that measures a vehicle's orientation and rotation) and inclinometer (which measures slopes). If everything checks out, the helicopter will again adjust the pitch of its rotor blades, configuring them so they don't produce lift during the early portion of the spin-up.
The spin-up of the rotor blades will take about 12 seconds to go from 0 to 2,537 rpm, the optimal speed for the first flight. After a final systems check, the pitch of the rotor blades will be commanded to change yet again, and the first experimental flight test on another planet will begin.
While hovering, the helicopter's navigation camera and laser altimeter will feed information into the navigation computer to ensure Ingenuity remains not only level, but in the middle of its 33-by-33-foot (10-by-10-meter) airfield – a patch of Martian real estate chosen for its flatness and lack of obstructions. Then, the Mars Helicopter will descend and touch back down on the surface of Jezero Crater, sending data back to Earth via Perseverance to confirm the flight.
Perseverance is expected to obtain imagery of the flight using its Navcam and Mastcam-Z imagers, with the pictures expected to come down that evening. The helicopter will also document the flight from its perspective, with a color image and several lower-resolution black-and-white navigation pictures possibly being available by the next morning.
"During a high-speed spin test of the rotors on Friday, the command sequence controlling the test ended early due to a 'watchdog' timer expiration. This occurred as it was trying to transition the flight computer from ‘Pre-Flight' to ‘Flight' mode. The helicopter team is reviewing telemetry to diagnose and understand the issue. Following that, they will reschedule the full-speed test."
The Ingenuity team has identified a software solution for the command sequence issue identified on Sol 49 (April 9) during a planned high-speed spin-up test of the helicopter's rotors. This software update will modify the process by which the two flight controllers boot up, allowing the hardware and software to safely transition to the flight state.
The process of updating Ingenuity's flight control software will follow established processes for validation with careful and deliberate steps to move the new software through the rover to the base station and then to the helicopter.
NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter became the first aircraft in history to make a powered, controlled flight on another planet. The Ingenuity team at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California confirmed the flight succeeded after receiving data from the helicopter via NASA's Perseverance Mars rover at 6:46 a.m. EDT , 19 April 2021.
The solar-powered helicopter first became airborne at 3:34 a.m. EDT (12:34 a.m. PDT) – 12:33 Local Mean Solar Time (Mars time) – a time the Ingenuity team determined would have optimal energy and flight conditions. Altimeter data indicate Ingenuity climbed to its prescribed maximum altitude of 10 feet (3 meters) and maintained a stable hover for 30 seconds. It then descended, touching back down on the surface of Mars after logging a total of 39.1 seconds of flight.
"This first of many airfields on other worlds will now be known as Wright Brothers Field." The location of the flight has also been given the ceremonial location designation JZRO for Jezero Crater. Ingenuity's chief pilot, Håvard Grip, announced that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) – the United Nations' civil aviation agency – presented NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration with official ICAO designator IGY, call-sign INGENUITY.
Additional details on the test are expected in upcoming downlinks. Parked about 211 feet (64.3 meters) away at Van Zyl Overlook during Ingenuity's historic first flight, the Perseverance rover not only acted as a communications relay between the helicopter and Earth, but also chronicled the flight operations with its cameras. The pictures from the rover's Mastcam-Z and Navcam imagers will provide additional data on the helicopter's flight.
Lasting 51.9 seconds, the flight added several new challenges to the first, including a higher maximum altitude, longer duration, and sideways movement. Ingenuity climbed to 16 feet (5 meters) this time. After the helicopter hovered briefly, its flight control system performed a slight (5-degree) tilt, allowing some of the thrust from the counter-rotating rotors to accelerate the craft sideways for 7 feet (2 meters).
“The flight met expectations and our prior computer modeling has been accurate. The helicopter came to a stop, hovered in place, and made turns to point its camera in different directions. Then it headed back to the center of the airfield to land. It sounds simple, but there are many unknowns regarding how to fly a helicopter on Mars. That's why we're here – to make these unknowns known.”
The Ingenuity team is considering how best to expand the profiles of its next flights to acquire additional aeronautical data from the first successful flight tests on another world.
NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter continues to set records, flying faster and farther on Sunday, April 25, 2021 than in any tests it went through on Earth. The helicopter took off at 4:31 a.m. EDT (1:31 a.m. PDT), or 12:33 p.m. local Mars time, rising 16 feet (5 meters) – the same altitude as its second flight. Then it zipped downrange 164 feet (50 meters), just over half the length of a football field, reaching a top speed of 6.6 feet per second (2 meters per second, or 4.5 mph) and a total flight distance of 328 feet.
“Today's flight was what we planned for, and yet it was nothing short of amazing. With this flight, we are demonstrating critical capabilities that will enable the addition of an aerial dimension to future Mars missions.”
The Ingenuity team has been pushing the helicopter's limits by adding instructions to capture more photos of its own – including from the color camera, which captured its first images on Flight Two. As with everything else about these flights, the additional steps are meant to provide insights that could be used by future aerial missions.
The Third Color Image Taken by Ingenuity: This is the third color image taken by NASA's Ingenuity helicopter. It was snapped on the helicopter's second flight, April 22, 2021, from an altitude of about 17 feet (5.2 meters). Tracks made by NASA's Perseverance Mars rover can be seen as well.
From Popular Science: “We want to push against the wind, we want to push against the speed. We expect it will meet its limit. We want to know what the limits are.” No helicopter has ever flown higher than about 7.5 miles. But you'd have to fly to an altitude of 28 miles to find as little atmosphere as what Ingenuity dealt with on Monday morning.
Ingenuity successfully completed its fourth flight April 30th. The helicopter took off at 10:49 a.m. EDT (7:49 a.m. PDT, or 12:33 local Mars time), climbing to an altitude of 16 feet (5 meters) before flying south approximately 436 feet (133 meters) and then back, for an 872-foot (266-meter) round trip. In total, Ingenuity was in the air for 117 seconds. That's another set of records for the helicopter.
Ingenuity also captured numerous images during the flight with the color camera and with Ingenuity's black-and-white navigation camera. During this flight, Ingenuity saved about 60 photos during the last 164 feet (50 meters) before the helicopter returned to its landing site.
Images like that provide an aerial perspective of Mars that humanity has never seen before. The images will be used to study the surface features of the terrain.
"Ingenuity's performance on Mars has been letter-perfect."
NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has a new mission. Having proven that powered, controlled flight is possible on the Red Planet, the Ingenuity experiment will soon embark on a new operations demonstration phase, exploring how aerial scouting and other functions could benefit future exploration of Mars and other worlds.
The decision to add an operations demonstration is a result of the Perseverance rover being ahead of schedule with the thorough checkout of all vehicle systems. With the Mars Helicopter's energy, telecommunications, and in-flight navigation systems performing beyond expectation, an opportunity arose to allow the helicopter to continue exploring its capabilities with an operations demonstration, without significantly impacting rover scheduling. “Since Ingenuity remains in excellent health, we plan to use it to benefit future aerial platforms."
Ingenuity's transition from conducting a technology demonstration to an operations demonstration brings with it a new flight envelope. Along with those one-way flights, there will be more precision maneuvering, greater use of its aerial-observation capabilities, and more risk overall.
With short drives expected for Perseverance in the near term, Ingenuity may execute flights that land near the rover's current location or its next anticipated parking spot. The helicopter can use these opportunities to perform aerial observations of rover science targets, potential rover routes, and inaccessible features while also capturing stereo images for digital elevation maps.
Flight operations will be completed no later than the end of August.
The 4-lb. (1.8 kilograms) chopper took to the Martian skies again on Sunday (June 6), making its first sortie since battling through an in-flight anomaly on May 22. And there were no problems this time around.
Ingenuity traveled 348 feet (106 meters) south from its previous location on the floor of Mars' Jezero Crater as planned on Sunday, staying aloft for nearly 63 seconds. The solar-powered rotorcraft set down at a new airfield, the fourth one it has reached since landing on the Red Planet with NASA's Perseverance rover on Feb. 18.
Ingenuity set new records for speed and distance, as well as stretching the capabilities of its navigation system.
Crossing sandy soil challenged Ingenuity's navigation algorithm. Ingenuity's algorithm sets the helicopter's flight path for a flat landscape, so it hadn't been tested on complex, rippling topographies — until now.
Ingenuity's flight 9 photo of its shadow
On July 5, Ingenuity flew for 166.4 seconds, long enough to traverse a total distance of 2,050 feet. Ingenuity even broke its speed record by clocking in at 15 feet per second, the equivalent of a brisk run.
In its ninth flight, Ingenuity leveled up from an accompaniment role to a solo mission. It flew over the sandy Séítah terrain, where no rover has gone — nor can go. The undulating sands and high slopes covering this stretch of land would hamper any wheeled vehicle daring to cross—but not a flying one.
Ingenuity took a shortcut straight across Séítah toward a safer plain in the south. Along the way, it snapped close-up images of Séítah's terrain for further scientific study. Ingenuity's latest flight demonstrates the benefits of having an aerial vehicle around. It can work with Perseverance to divide-and-conquer different types of Martian terrains to cover more ground.
Séítah's bumpy landscape could have caused Ingenuity to bob up and down in altitude and potentially confuse the chopper's camera to the extent that it may miss its intended destination altogether. To compensate, the engineers flew Ingenuity slowly at higher altitudes over particularly tricky sections of its route.
Ingenuity will hand off its data to Perseverance, which will transmit the data to scientists back on Earth.
The small chopper surpassed the 1-mile (1.6 km) mark of its total flight distance on Saturday (July 24) when soared over a rocky region called "Raised Ridges" at its Jezero Crater home. The sortie was the 10th and highest trip yet for Ingenuity.
The flight was designed to see the helicopter climb to an altitude of 39 feet (12 m) and reach speeds of 11 mph (18 kph).
The flight, which saw the little chopper travel 1,250 feet (380 meters), was designed to get Ingenuity to a set location that the helicopter will now make its base for one or more geology reconnaissance flights of South Séítah, a rugged patch of ground on the floor of Mars' Jezero Crater.
The flight is part of an ongoing campaign to use Ingenuity as a scout for its much larger companion, NASA's Perseverance rover. While the rover carries much more sophisticated scientific equipment than Ingenuity does, it's not nearly as agile, and its drivers need to monitor the terrain it tackles closely.
The little helicopter's next excursion should be a reconnaissance flight of South Séítah.
NASA's Ingenuity helicopter captured a stunning view of the Martin landscape, and hidden in the image searching for life on Mars is the Perseverance rover.
Ingenuity has been helping the rover in its mission, having recently completed its 11th flight on the Red Planet where it captured images of rocks and sand dunes.
Along with capturing the boulders, sand dunes, and rocky outcrops prevalent in the 'South Séítah' region of Jezero Crater, a few of the images capture NASA's Perseverance rover amid its first science campaign.
Despite being over 9ft long and weighing more than a tonne, the rover fades into the background of the image, hidden among massive rocks when seen from 39ft up.
Flight 12 will be similar to Flight 10, where Ingenuity performed some location scouting for the Perseverance team of a surface feature called “Raised Ridges.” Flight 12 has the potential to have more impactful results. Thanks to its newly enabled AutoNav capability, Perseverance is quickly moving northwest across the southern ridge of Séítah (white path) and will meet Ingenuity in the coming days. As a result, the timing of Ingenuity's Flight 12 is critical.
The plan for Ingenuity is to climb to an altitude of 10 meters and fly approximately 235 meters east-northeast toward the area of interest in Séítah. Once there, the helicopter will make a 5-meter “sidestep” in order to get side-by-side images of the surface terrain suitable to construct a stereo, or 3D, image. Then, while keeping the camera in the same direction, Ingenuity will backtrack, returning to the same area from where it took off. Over the course of the flight, Ingenuity will capture 10 color images that we hope
will help the Perseverance science team determine which of all the boulders, rocky outcrops and other geologic features in South Séítah may be worthy of further scrutiny by the rover.
Flying over Séítah South carries substantial risk because of the varied terrain. Ingenuity's navigation system – which was originally intended to support a short technology demonstration – works on the assumption that it is flying across flat (or nearly flat) terrain. Deviations from this assumption can introduce errors that can lead both to temporary tilting back and forth in an oscillating pattern, as well as long-term errors in the helicopter's knowledge of its position.
A couple of the things we like to keep an eye on in our logbook entries: Ingenuity has logged 19 minutes and approximately 1.2 nautical miles in the Martian skies (so far). We are happy to report all systems are green and that the helicopter is ready for continued flight operations.
NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity made its 12th Red Planet flight on Monday (Aug. 16), during which the little chopper served as eyes in the sky for its larger companion, the Perseverance rover.
The flight was designed to serve as reconnaissance for the rover's continuing explorations of a region dubbed South Séítah.
Unlike most of its recent flights, this sortie saw Ingenuity make a round trip. That choice matched the flight's purpose. While the helicopter had been focused on keeping ahead of Perseverance, this time Ingenuity was gathering detailed scouting information for the rover.
While flying over South Séítah is risky for the little chopper, driving through the region is also dangerous for the Perseverance rover. But the region is also full of intriguing rocks that Perseverance's science team would love to study up close.
During its first 11 flights, Ingenuity had flown a total of about 1.4 miles (2.2 kilometers) and spent nearly 19 minutes in the Martian skies, according to tallies provided by NASA. The 12th flight added nearly 1,500 feet (450 meters) and 169 seconds to that total.
Ingenuity has vastly exceeded its original directive, to make five flights around its initial deployment site over the course of a month to prove that flying a rotorcraft on Mars is possible.
A photograph from Ingenuity's 12th flight, conducted on Aug. 16, 2021, shows the silhouette of the helicopter on the rippled surface of Mars. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Ingenuity will again be venturing into the geologically intriguing South Séítah region to scout an area of outcrops glimpsed in Flight 12 imagery.
The flight will be at 26 feet (8 meters), as opposed to the 33 feet (10 meters) of Flight 12. Ingenuity will cover about 690 feet (210 meters) in around 161 seconds and take 10 pictures. The helocopter's speed will be 7.3 mph (3.3 meters per second), versus 10 mph (4.3 meters per second) during Flight 12.
For Flight 13, Ingenuity will be capturing images pointing southwest. When combined with Flight 12's northeast perspectives, the overlapping images from a lower altitude should provide valuable insight for Perseverance scientists and rover drive planners.
Ingenuity's Lucky 13 Flight – NASA shared a photo of Ingenuity on Twitter conducting its 13th flight on Mars. The U.S. space agency wrote on their website that Flight 13 is a journey built on the information gathered by Flight 12.
However, instead of focusing on South Séítah, they concentrated on a particular ridgeline and its outcrops by flying at a lower altitude of about 26 feet (8 meters) as opposed to Flight 12's 33 feet (10 meters).
Now, it has to survive the approaching Martian winter as it continues its mission. NASA is already working on its next-generation successors with the information they gathered via over a dozen flights on the Red Planet.
NASA's Mars rover Perseverance has drilled and encapsulated the first rock sample ever taken on another planet, while the accompanying helicopter Ingenuity has completed its 13th flight.
NASA plans to take up to 40 rock samples and deposit them in batches on the surface, where future missions are planned to retrieve them, launch them into space and return them to Earth.
The rover took the sample, slightly thicker than a pencil, from a ridge in Jezero Crater that may contain the oldest rocks in the area. That sample could help scientists understand the history of the crater, which NASA has determined was an ancient lake.
Flying ahead of Perseverance, the helicopter Ingenuity toon detailed photos of ridges and sand dunes to identify hazards and science targets. The rover is not capable of navigating large sand dunes. Ingenuity's 13th flight was about 690 feet, lasting a little over 2 1/2 minutes. Cameras on the 4-pound helicopter took images of a ridge scientists are interested in as the rover's next target.
Mars is throwing some obstacles into Ingenuity's flight path. The density of the atmosphere in the Jezero Crater is dropping, a factor which has "a significant impact on Ingenuity's ability to fly."
Atmospheric density -- which can fluctuate over time and with seasonal changes -- affects how much thrust Ingenuity needs to get off the ground and climb through the air. Lower density makes it more difficult to do these tasks.
Ingenuity was optimized to work in an atmosphere on Mars that is about 1.2-1.5% of Earth's at sea level, but the rotorcraft has stuck around long enough to experience a change in conditions.
Ingenuity "did a rotor spin test at 2,800 rpm. Next up – flight 14 – will be a short hop to confirm rpm settings for future scouting efforts that could take place in lower atmospheric densities. The motors will need to spin faster, the electrical system will need to deliver more power, and the entire rotor system will need to withstand the higher loads that come with increased rotor speeds."
We were getting ready to begin flying with a higher rotor speed to compensate for decreasing atmospheric density caused by seasonal changes on Mars. The high-speed spin test was completed successfully on Sept. 15th.
A test flight was scheduled to take place on Sept. 18, 2021 (Sol 206) and was supposed to be a brief hover flight at 16 feet (5 meters) altitude with a 2,700 rpm rotor speed. It turned out to be an uneventful flight, because Ingenuity decided to not take off. Ingenuity detected an anomaly in two of the small flight-control servo motors during its automatic pre-flight checkout and did exactly what it was supposed to do: it canceled the flight.
Ingenuity performs an automated check on the servos before every flight. This self-test drives the six servos through a sequence of steps over their range of motion and verifies that they reach their commanded positions after each step.
The data from the anomalous pre-flight servo wiggle shows that two of the upper rotor swashplate servos – servos 1 and 2 – began to oscillate with an amplitude of approximately 1 degree about their commanded positions just after the second step of the sequence. Ingenuity's software detected this oscillation and promptly canceled the self-test and flight. Two additional wiggle tests ran successfully, so the issue isn't entirely repeatable.
One theory for what is happening is that moving parts in the servo gearboxes and swashplate linkages are beginning to show some wear now that Ingenuity has flown well over twice as many flights (13) as originally planned (5). Wear in these moving parts would cause increased clearances and increased looseness, and could explain servo oscillation.
Mars will be in solar conjunction until mid-October, and we won't be uplinking any command sequences to Ingenuity during that time. Conjunction is a special period in which Mars moves behind the Sun (as seen from Earth), making communications with spacecraft on Mars unreliable. Ingenuity will not be completely idle during this time, however; Ingenuity and Perseverance will be configured to keep each other company by communicating roughly once a week, with Ingenuity sending basic system health information to its base station on Perseverance. We will receive this data on Earth once we come out of conjunction, and will learn how Ingenuity performs over an extended period of relative inactivity on Mars.
NASA announced Monday that the Mars helicopter Ingenuity has successfully performed a short Martian flight to test summer weather conditions. As weather at Jezero Crater gets warmer, the aircraft's rotors must turn faster to achieve flight, so engineers have programmeded a quick hop to test the helicopter's performance.
"This test also leaves the team room for an rpm increase if needed for future flights."
Ingenuity and the rover Perseverance emerged from an almost-complete blackout in communication Thursday after Earth and Mars moved out of Solar conjunction.
The flight covered 1,332 feet (406 meters), traveling at 11.1 mph (17.9 kph), and flew about 39 feet (12 m) above the ground.
Ingenuity has recently been studying a patch of Jezero called South Séítah, but flight 15 began a journey back toward Wright Brothers Field, the site of the rotorcraft's first-ever Martian flight.
It will take a total of four to seven flights to return to Wright Brothers Field. "Along the way, the project is considering preparing a flight software upgrade for our helicopter which will potentially enable new navigation capabilities onboard, and better prepare Ingenuity for the challenges ahead."
Perseverance will do some similar backtracking. After getting to Wright Brothers Field, the two robotic explorers will travel north together up the east side of the Seitah region. They'll then head west toward the edge of the ancient river delta that made Jezero such an attractive landing spot for the life-hunting Perseverance.
Flight 15 was Ingenuity's second since solar conjunction, a two-week stretch during which the sun comes between Mars and Earth. NASA stops commanding its Red Planet robots during this time, because our star can corrupt interplanetary communications.
The recent flight was also the second in which Ingenuity spun its rotors at 2,700 revolutions per minute (RPM), compared to about 2,500 RPM on the first 13 flights. The increase was necessitated by a seasonal shift on Jezero's floor; it's summer there now, and the air is less dense than it was before.
Ingenuity has been dealing with declining atmospheric pressure for some weeks, as the Martian seasons roll ahead. As if it wasn't tough enough piloting a space helicopter on Mars, a mystery wobble is forcing NASA to decide whether to patch Ingenuity's flight software.
Just after flight 13, telemetry reported a mechanical wobble in the swash plate atop Ingenuity's rotor shaft. Eventually, it was traced to a minute oscillation that appeared to come from two of the six flight control servos. Thanks to the infuriating nature of intermittent problems, it showed up once and then vanished, and so far the problem isn't easily repeatable. Mission scientists have tested the helicopter with a series of “servo wiggles,” but have been unable to reproduce the same deviation.
After more than a dozen successful outbound flights, the helicopter turned and began to make its way toward home base with a two-minute flight, the first of perhaps half a dozen that Ingenuity will make before it reaches Perseverance. These high-RPM test flights are critical because they allow mission control to test its models for flight in an extremely low-pressure environment.
Mars' northern hemisphere is in the middle of summer, which means that its already delicate surface pressure drops by a third, settling at a wispy one percent of the sea-level pressure here on Earth. With fewer air molecules to push around, Ingenuity has to spin its rotor up to higher and higher speeds in order to stay aloft. But these more demanding flights also generate data on critical high-RPM motor performance, which the team will use to design and tailor upcoming low-density flights in the months ahead.
The space copter's current mission is to rendezvous with Perseverance, scouting its path for a northward sortie along the eastern edge of the Seitah region.
Flight 16 will be a shorter, 109-second flight. Ingenuity will climb up to 33 feet (10 meters), glide over the “Raised Ridges” at 3 mph (1.5 meters per second), then land near the edge of “South Séítah,” covering a distance of 380 feet (116 meters). We plan to capture a series of nine color Return-to-Earth (RTE) camera images evenly spaced throughout the flight, oriented to the southwest and opposite the flight path.
If we could fly all the way across Séítah on Flight 9, why are we breaking the return path into multiple segments? As discussed in the Flight 9 retrospective post, the terrain of Séítah is particularly challenging for Ingenuity's navigation algorithm. Because the navigation algorithm assumes flat terrain, any changes to the terrain height introduces heading error. On Flight 9, Ingenuity landed 154 feet (47 meters) away from the center of our 164-foot-(50-meter)-radius target airfield. The heading error on Flight 9 was less of a concern because the terrain of South Séítah was benign and allowed a large degree of uncertainty in our landed position. However, the terrain on the north side of Séítah is rockier. As a result, we have to be more precise in our landing location on the return path. Flight 16 will tackle the tricky terrain of the Raised Ridges. By doing a short flight over these ridges, we reduce accumulated heading error that can build up over longer flights.
Flight 16 will set up Ingenuity for a Séítah crossing on Flight 17, getting us closer to the current goal of Wright Brothers Field.
Topography Between Mars Helicopter and Rover for Flight 17: In this annotated image, Ingenuity's flight path is depicted in yellow. Perseverance's location is indicated in the upper left, with the blue line depicting its line of sight to the helicopter's Flight 17 landing spot. The topographic map below it indicates the altitude of surface features between the rover and helicopter. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image.
Ingenuity flew for the 17th time at Mars on Sunday, Dec. 5. After the helicopter executed the planned 614-foot (187-meter) traverse to the northeast, the radio communications link between Ingenuity and the Perseverance Mars rover was disrupted during the final descent phase of the flight. Approximately 15 minutes later, Perseverance received several packets of additional Ingenuity telemetry indicating that the flight electronics and battery were healthy.
Ingenuity was tasked with flying to a landing site which placed a 13-foot (4 meter) hill called “Bras” (named after a commune in France) in the Line OfSight between the two antennas. With a cruise altitude of 33-feet (10 meters), Bras presented little obstruction to our radio link during the majority of the flight. But as Ingenuity began to descend, the line of sight between the rover and helicopter antennas began to become obstructed/shadowed by Bras.
When Flight 17 was originally planned, the rover Perseverance was expected to be parked in a specific location and oriented in a certain direction. However, Perseverance's plans change day to day to maximize overall science return. By the time Flight 17 was ready for execution, Perseverance had driven to a new location and parked along a challenging heading for radio communications.
Since the start of the helicopters operations demonstration, the potential for radio loss on landing has been expected due to the nature of our more challenging flights. Ingenuity was designed to handle these situations by automatically powering down after a flight and awaiting further instructions on subsequent sols, which is expected to be the case following Flight 17. These challenges are part of the lessons learned in integrating aerial exploration activities within the complexity of daily rover operations.
We believe the flight was a success because nothing in what we see from the available helicopter suggests otherwise. Telemetry is nominal leading right up to the moment that the radio link halted. Even more telling are the data packets received 15 minutes after the time landing should have occurred. These packets included samples of our battery voltage indicating a +76 millivolts, or a +1.2% state-of-charge increase over 15 minutes. In other words, the battery was being charged by the helicopter's solar array. This high level of battery charging could only be possible with an upright vehicle, with its solar array pointing to the Martian sky.
The first opportunity to downlink the missing data from Flight 17 will be no earlier than Wednesday, after which the team will finalize its health assessment. Temporary loss of radio link is a natural part of helicopter operations at the Red Planet.
After a 117-second Mars sortie on Dec. 5, the total flight time for the Ingenuity helicopter is 30 minutes and 48 seconds after 17 total flights.
"Ingenuity is in excellent condition," JPL stated, which put the little drone at a go for making its 18th flight this week.
The flight plan for No. 18 will see Ingenuity fly 754 feet (230 meters) and reach a top speed of 5.6 mph (9 kph) over 125 seconds. This will bring the helicopter to a new airfield, near the northern boundary of a region named Séítah.
Ingenuity's radio range and performance will be tested to an extreme degree on this flight, and as such, engineers decided to have the helicopter communicate back to the Perseverance rover using a low data-rate mode.
"If we do lose radio link on landing, it may be several days or weeks until the line-of-sight between Ingenuity and Perseverance improves enough to attempt a communication session," Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity team lead, said in the same statement.
One of the Red Planet's famous dust storms has kept the Mars helicopter Ingenuity grounded for two weeks, but the aircraft is scheduled for its 19th flight as early as Sunday, according to NASA.
Around the first of the year, NASA planned Flight 19 of the tiny, 4-pound helicopter on Jan. 5. But weather forecasters on Ingenuity's team in California noticed signs of the approaching dust storm.
Ingenuity is holding up much better than anyone expected. NASA designed the aerial drone to demonstrate powered, controlled flight on another planet for the first time in a 30-day mission. But Ingenuity has been functioning nominally for over nine months. "We do not see significant signs of wear to any components. However ... the Mars helicopter has numerous off-the-shelf parts that were not designed for space exploration."
"A strong regional dust storm appeared on the first day of the new year, encompassing Jezero crater just as we scheduled Flight 19. We have never seen a storm of this strength so early in the Mars year before." Instruments on the nearby Perseverance rover and on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that circles Mars indicated the storm could arrive just as Flight 19 took off. Dust storms have two negative impacts on Ingenuity. First, they obscure sunlight needed for the aircraft's solar panels. Secondly, suspended dust particles are heated by sunlight which makes the air less dense -- a problem for the helicopter's rotors. The dust storm resulted in an 18% drop in the amount of power flowing to Ingenuity's batteries from its solar panels, and air density dropped below safe thresholds.
Ingenuity is due to fly about 207 feet on Flight 19, heading north back toward its original landing field, in preparation for it to scout further northern pathways for Perseverance, ahead of an approach to an ancient river delta that is still 1.5 miles away.
The dust storm couldn't keep NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity grounded forever. The 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) Ingenuity aced a 100-second sortie on February 8th, its 19th Red Planet flight overall but its first since December 15.
The flight had originally been targeted for January 5. But on New Year's Day, a big dust storm kicked up near the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater, which Ingenuity and its robotic partner, NASA's Perseverance rover, have been exploring since February 2021.
The Ingenuity team decided to stand down until the dust storm passed, making Ingenuity the first aircraft ever to have a flight delayed by inclement weather on another planet.
Two main factors underlay the decision to delay. First, Ingenuity is solar powered, so lots of dust in the air could affect its ability to recharge its batteries. Second, airborne dust absorbs solar radiation and heats up the surrounding atmosphere, thinning it out slightly. That may not sound like a big deal, but Mars' air is just 1% as dense as that of Earth at sea level, so flying there is tricky even in the best of circumstances.
The delay turned out to be the right call. The dust storm did indeed roll over Jezero Crater, and the effects were observed by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the weather station aboard Perseverance, and Ingenuity's sensors.
About a 7% ddrop in air density was observed, which put density below the lower threshold of safe flight and would have imparted undue risk to the spacecraft.
The dust also reduced the amount of sunlight absorbed by Ingenuity's solar array, which fell about 18% below normal 'clear sky' levels.
The flight took Ingenuity out of a rugged patch of Jezero's floor known as South Séítah, over a ridge and onto a plateau. Ingenuity stayed aloft for 99.98 seconds and covered about 205 feet (62 meters).
The 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) Ingenuity landed on the floor of Jezero Crater with NASA's life-hunting, sample-caching Perseverance rover on Feb. 18, 2021. Pn Friday, February 25, Ingenuity notched yet another milestone, this one of the round-number variety — its 20th Martian sortie.
"Flight 20 was a success! In its 130.3 seconds of flight, the #MarsHelicopter covered 391 meters [1,283 feet] at a speed of 4.4 meters per second [9.8 mph], bringing it closer to @NASAPersevere's landing location."
Ingenuity and Perseverance spent their first (Earth) year on Mars exploring locales to the south and west of their touchdown zone. The duo are now heading back toward the landing site, on their way to more exciting real estate beyond.
"The delta in Jezero Crater is the reason we chose the landing site, and we hope to get to it later this spring." Ingenuity is helping Perseverance get there, capturing airborne imagery that allows the rover's handlers to choose the safest and most efficient route toward the delta region.
"Ingenuity successfully completed its 21st flight on the Red Planet. The small rotorcraft traveled 370 meters [1,214 feet] at a speed of 3.85 meters per second [8.61 mph] and stayed aloft for 129.2 seconds."
NASA's trusty helicopter will soon enter some precarious terrain. The aerial craft Ingenuity is headed to a dried-up river delta in the Jezero Crater, a land filled "with jagged cliffs, angled surfaces, projecting boulders, and sand-filled pockets that could stop a rover in its tracks (or upend a helicopter upon landing)."
The image shows windswept sand in the foreground, and hilly, even mountainous terrain beyond. You can also spot the helicopter's shadow on the bottom of the frame, and a glimpse of the ball-like end of one of its legs on the upper left side of the image.
Over a series of at least three flights, NASA will send Ingenuity across an expanse of desert dubbed "Séítah". its next journey is expected to span some 1,150 feet — while avoiding a hill.
The chopper will accompany the car-sized Perseverance rover on a journey through the dry river delta, a place planetary scientists suspect once teemed with water.
NASA's Mars Ingenuity helicopter recently completed its 23rd excursion, flying for 129.1 seconds across 358 meters.
The latest milestone—which brings the copter's total distance flown to more than 5,000 meters – more than 3.1 miles.
The autonomous chopper has survived almost a year on the Red Planet – well beyond the 31-day original technology demonstration mission for which it was designed.
Ingenuity's mission has been extended through September 2022, allowing it to continue testing its limits in order to support the design of future Mars air vehicles. To enhance the chances of success, NASA's JPL is making software updates to improve operational flexibility and flight safety.
Ingenuity completed its 24th flight on Mars, traveling a short 33 feet for 69.5 seconds in order to place it in a good position for an upcoming record-setting 25th flight.
The red dot on the map to the right indicates Perseverance’s present position. The green dot shows where Ingenuity landed today. The tan dashed lines indicate the planned routes for both.
Ingenuity’s next flight will take it out of the rough terrain of Seitah and much closer to Three Forks.
With Flight 24 in the log book, it is now time to look forward to the upcoming effort that charts a course out of Séítah. Flight 25 – which was uplinked yesterday – will send Ingenuity 704 meters to the northwest (almost 80 meters longer than the current record – Flight 9). The helicopter’s ground speed will be about 5.5 meters per second (another record) and we expect to be in the rarefied Martian air for about 161.5 seconds.
NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity just flew farther and faster than it ever has before. Ingenuity "broke its distance and ground speed records, traveling 704 meters [2,310 feet] at 5.5 meters per second while flying for 161.3 seconds."
According to Ingenuity's flight log, the greatest distance covered by the helicopter had been 2,051 feet (625 meters), achieved during a flight in July 2021. Its previous speed record was 5 meters per second, which it reached on multiple flights. (5 meters per second is about 11.2 mph, or 18 kph. 5.5 meters per second is roughly 12.3 mph, or 19.8 kph. Friday's sortie didn't set a duration record, however; that mark is 169.5 seconds, set during an August 2021 flight.
Ingenuity landed on the floor of Mars' Jezero Crater in February 2021 with NASA's life-hunting, sample-caching Perseverance rover. The little chopper deployed from the rover's belly that April and embarked upon a five-flight, one-month mission designed to show that aerial exploration is possible on Mars despite the planet's thin atmosphere.
Ingenuity quickly left that initial campaign in the dust. It's now flying on an extended mission, performing reconnaissance for Perseverance, which is making its way to an accessible remnant of the ancient river delta that once existed within Jezero. Friday's flight was the second in five days for Ingenuity and its fifth sortie in the last month. Perseverance has been making serious tracks on its drive to the delta, and Ingenuity needs to keep up. In fact, the mission team wants the helicopter to get to the delta first.
"Ingenuity only communicates with the helicopter base station on Perseverance, so it needs to stay close enough to have a good connection."
In the past year, Ingenuity has made 25 flights, with a total of 46.5 minutes in the air to travel 5,824 meters, with a maximum height of twelve meters, on a mission that was intended only as a technological demonstration that you could fly on Mars, but that has gone much further.
After the five scheduled flights, the helicopter would have been left behind, while Perseverance continued on its way, as it was thought that “it would be unable to keep up with its pace”.
But with each flight, they have learned that it can follow the rover, maintain communication with it, charge its batteries, spend the frosty nights without being damaged. Little by little they have widened the limits to “fly farther, faster, take pictures and add to the scientific value of the mission”.
In fact, Ingenuity has become a kind of helper. “We no longer have to send Perseverance somewhere that could possibly be dangerous, such as sandy ground where its wheels can fit.” The helicopter goes and takes photos, which help scientists understand the geochemical components of an area, without “worrying about whether Perserverance has to arrive or not.”
Ingenuity opens up the possibility that, “in five or ten years”, instead of a rover, a series of drones can be sent to Mars with different scientific instruments; this one is only provided with cameras.
Ingenuity Flight 26 — news not reported; see flight log.
NASA's Perseverance rover is on a mission to sleuth out past evidence of life on Mars. Along the way, it found evidence of Earthlings.
This week, the space agency posted an image of two objects the rover passed while traversing the Martian desert: a discarded parachute and a metal capsule. Both played vital roles in helping the car-sized exploration rover land safely on Mars.
Note the objects in the middle of the image. On left is the collapsed orange and white parachute; on right is a conspicuous part of the shell that housed the rover as it plunged through Mars' atmosphere in February 2021.
Landing the 2,260-pound, $2.7 billion rover on Mars was an impressive feat, dubbed the "seven minutes of terror." The plummeting spacecraft, traveling at some 1,000 mph, deployed a supersonic parachute to slow down. It ditched its heavy heat shield. Before choosing a safe landing spot (free of boulders, pits, or dangerous rocks), it abandoned the parachute; then a rocket-powered apparatus fired up and hovered in the air while carefully lowering the rover down to the ground. Everything must work swimmingly — and it did.
The rover is now on its way to a dried-up delta in Mars' Jezero Crater, a place planetary scientists believe once hosted a lake. "This delta is one of the best locations on Mars for the rover to look for signs of past microscopic life."
Ingenuity Flight 27 — news not reported; see flight log.
The Ingenuity helicopter has captured a unique bird's-eye perspective of the gear that helped land the Perseverance rover on Mars. During its one-year anniversary flight 26 on April 19, the little chopper took photos of the striped parachute used during Perseverance's landing -- often referred to as "7 minutes of terror" because it happens faster than radio signals can reach Earth from Mars -- on February 18, 2021. It was the biggest parachute used on Mars to date, at 70.5 feet (21.5 meters) wide. It also spotted the cone-shaped backshell that helped protect the rover and Ingenuity on the trip from Earth to Mars and during its fiery, plunging descent to the Martian surface.
"NASA extended Ingenuity flight operations to perform pioneering flights such as this. Every time we're airborne, Ingenuity covers new ground and offers a perspective no previous planetary mission could achieve. Mars Sample Return's reconnaissance request is a perfect example of the utility of aerial platforms on Mars."
During entry, descent and landing, the spacecraft faces scorching temperatures and gravitational forces as it plunges into the Martian atmosphere at almost 12,500 miles per hour (20,000 kilometers per hour).
Previously, we've only seen images of the discarded landing gear from a rover's perspective, like an image taken by Perseverance showing the parachute and backshell from a distance. Aerial images, captured for the first time by Ingenuity from 26 feet (8 meters) in the air, provide more detail.
"Ingenuity's images offer a different vantage point. If they either reinforce that our systems worked as we think they worked or provide even one dataset of engineering information we can use for Mars Sample Return planning, it will be amazing." The backshell can be seen among a debris field it created after hitting the Martian surface while moving at about 78 miles per hour (126 kilometers per hour). But the backshell's protective coating appears to be intact, as are the 80 suspension lines connecting it to the parachute.
"To get the shots we needed, Ingenuity did a lot of maneuvering, but we were confident because there was complicated maneuvering on flights 10, 12, and 13."
The helicopter and rover have arrived at an ancient river delta where water once flowed into Jezero Crater millions of years ago. The imposing delta rises more than 130 feet (40 meters) above the crater floor and is riddled with boulders, pockets of sand and jagged cliffs -- and it could be the best place to search for signs of ancient life if it ever existed on Mars.
Ingenuity has the crucial task of surveying two dry river channels to see which one Perseverance should use to climb to the top of the delta. It can also share images of features that could become potential science targets for the rover.
As the season has turned to winter in Jezero Crater, conditions have become increasingly challenging for Ingenuity, which was designed for a short flight-test campaign during the much warmer Martian spring. Increased amounts of dust in the atmosphere, combined with lower daytime temperatures and shorter days, have impacted Ingenuity’s energy budget to the point where it is unable to keep itself warm throughout the Martian nights. In its new winter operations paradigm, Ingenuity is effectively shutting down during the night, letting its internal temperature drop to about minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 80 degrees Celsius) and letting the onboard electronics reset. This new way of operating carries with it risks to Ingenuity’s electronic components, many of which are not designed to survive the temperatures they are being exposed to at night. Moreover, extreme temperature cycles between daytime and nighttime tend to cause stresses that can result in component failure.
Over the past several sols on Mars, the Ingenuity team has been busy recommissioning the helicopter for flight, going through a series of activities that include preflight checkout of sensors and actuators and a high-speed spin of the rotor. These activities have revealed that one of the helicopter’s navigation sensors, called the inclinometer, has stopped functioning. A nonworking navigation sensor sounds like a big deal – and it is – but it’s not necessarily an end to our flying at Mars.
When Ingenuity is flying, the onboard flight control system keeps close track of the helicopter’s current position, velocity, and orientation. It does so with the help a sensor suite consisting of an inertial measurement unit (IMU), which measures accelerations and angular rates in three directions, a laser rangefinder, which measures the distance to the ground, and a navigation camera, which takes pictures of the ground below.
The data from these sensors is processed by a set of algorithms implemented on Ingenuity’s navigation computer. For the algorithms to function properly, they must be initialized prior to takeoff with an estimate of Ingenuity’s roll and pitch attitude. This is where the inclinometer comes in.
The inclinometer consists of two accelerometers, whose sole purpose is to measure gravity prior to spin-up and takeoff; the direction of the sensed gravity is used to determine how Ingenuity is oriented relative to the downward direction. The inclinometer is not used during the flight itself, but without it we are forced to find a new way to initialize the navigation algorithms prior to takeoff.
Impersonating the Inclinometer
Ingenuity’s sensor suite provides some redundancy when it comes to sensing attitude on the ground. The IMU contains accelerometers, which – just like the accelerometers within the inclinometer – can be used to estimate the initial attitude. Unlike the inclinometer, the IMU is not purpose-built for sensing static orientation, so its initial attitude estimates will generally be somewhat less accurate. However, we believe an IMU-based initial attitude estimate will allow us to take off safely and thus provides an acceptable fallback that will allow Ingenuity to resume flying.
Taking advantage of this redundancy requires a patch to Ingenuity’s flight software. The patch inserts a small code snippet into the software running on Ingenuity’s flight computer, intercepting incoming garbage packets from the inclinometer and injecting replacement packets constructed from IMU data. To the navigation algorithms, everything will look as before, the only difference being that the received inclinometer packets do not actually originate from the inclinometer.
Anticipating that this situation could potentially arise, we prepared the required software patch prior to last year’s arrival on Mars and kept it on the shelf for this eventuality. We are therefore able to move quickly with the update, and the process of uplinking it to Ingenuity is already underway.
Returning to Service
If all goes well, over the next few sols, the team expects to finalize uplinking and applying the software patch, which will be followed by commissioning activities to ensure the new software is operating as planned. Barring additional surprises, we anticipate that Ingenuity will take to the skies for Flight 29 – a repositioning move to the southwest designed to keep us within communication range of Perseverance – in the near future.