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Will the Ingenuity Mars helicopter take off again after an unscheduled landing?


On August 2, 2023, the 871st Martian day of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover mission, the Mastcam-Z instrument aboard the agency’s rover produced this remarkable view of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter from its 54th flight.

The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter recently completed its 54th flight, the first since it cut its previous flight short. This 25-second hop was an important part of the investigation into why the 53rd flight ended abruptly and unexpectedly.The 53rd flight took off from the surface of Mars with NASA’s Perseverance rover in tow. It was planned as a 136-second scouting mission, aimed to collect imagery of the planet’s surface that could be used by the rover’s science team. The flight profile included flying north at an altitude of 16 feet (5 meters) for 666 feet (203 meters) and a speed of 5.6 mph (2.5 meters per second), then descending vertically to 8 feet (2.5 meters), where it would hover and take photos, before ascending to 33 feet (10 meters) and then landing.

However, the helicopter only completed the first half of its journey, flying north for 466 feet (142 meters) before a flight-contingency program was triggered and it automatically landed after 74 seconds in the air. In order to determine why this happened, NASA decided to carry out a short hop with Ingenuity on its 54th flight.The helicopter flew vertically up to 16 feet (5 meters) and back down again in just 25 seconds, providing data that could help the Ingenuity team understand why its previous flight was interrupted. By flying this brief hop, they were able to observe how Ingenuity reacted in similar conditions to its 53rd flight – in other words, how it reacted when it should have flown further but instead automatically landed. 

These observations could suggest possible root causes for why the 53rd mission ended early and provide insights into how to ensure that all future flights go according to plan. The 54th flight was an important step forward in understanding why the 53rd mission ended prematurely and applying those learnings to ensure that Ingenuity can successfully complete future flights. This was only a minor setback in an otherwise hugely successful mission for Ingenuity, and it is encouraging to see the innovative solutions being used by NASA’s team to ensure that future flights are successful.

On August 3, 2020, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter captured an  image of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover from an altitude of 16 feet (5 meters). This image is significant as it marks the 54th flight of Ingenuity and the 872nd Martian day of the mission.

NASA’s Ingenuity team has had a lot of firsts on Mars: the first powered flight, the first controlled flight, and now the first instance of the helicopter’s built-in emergency landing protocol being triggered. During Flight 53, the Ingenuity helicopter encountered an unexpected situation and executed its “LAND_NOW” program, which was designed to put the aircraft on the surface as quickly as possible.

The team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California believes that the problem stemmed from image frames from the helicopter’s navigation camera not syncing up with data from its inertial measurement unit. This is not the first time such a problem has occurred during an Ingenuity mission; during Flight 6, multiple image frames were dropped which resulted in excessive pitching and rolling near the end of the flight.

To help prevent this from happening again in future flights, the flight software was updated to address potential dropped image frames. However, on Flight 53, more images were dropped than expected and this triggered the LAND_NOW program. The team is now working to better understand what happened during Flight 53 – but thankfully they can be confident that their “baby” is ready to keep soaring forward on Mars.

Overall, it’s exciting to see how much progress has been made in navigating a flying robot on another planet. Ingenuity’s success is a great example of how technology can be used for space exploration and could potentially lead to new discoveries in our solar system. The team’s commitment to safety and reliability is also commendable; their dedication to understanding what went wrong during Flight 53 is an important step in making sure that future aircraft can operate safely and reliably on other worlds.

Surendra Uikey

My name is Surendra Uikey, I am a science blogger, I have been blogging for the past three years, because I love to write, especially on astronomy, and I believe, if you want to learn something, then start learning others, By this it will be, that you learn things in a better way. In 2019, I started, the aim of making was to connect astronomy in simple words to common people.

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