NASA engineers have decided to delay the Ingenuity helicopter’s debut flight on Mars until at least Wednesday, April 14, after encountering a minor computer glitch during a rotor spin test Friday night, the agency said on Saturday. The small craft is healthy, but engineers need a little more time to review telemetry data from the unexpected hiccups before moving on.
Ingenuity, a four-pound mini-helicopter that arrived Feb. 18 linked to NASA’s Perseverance rover, was initially scheduled to make its first test flight late Sunday evening (or, mid-day of Mars). The first bits of data on whether the flight attempt was successful were expected to come early Monday morning, around 4AM ET.
But data from a rapid rotor test conducted on Friday showed that the test series “ ended prematurely due to the expiration of a ‘watchdog’ timer, ” NASA saidIt happened when Ingenuity’s computer tried to switch from pre-flight mode to flight mode.
Ingenuity’s “watchdog timer” is just that – a software-based watchdog that monitors the helicopter’s test sequences and alerts technicians if anything looks abnormal. “It helps the system to stay safe by not proceeding if a problem is detected and working as planned,” NASA said in a blog post.
NASA emphasized that the craft is healthy, and Ingenuity is still in good contact with engineers at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
Ingenuity was deployed by Perseverance on the surface of Mars on April 4, kicking off a 31-day clock with five flight tests scheduled. For its first flight demonstration, the helicopter will take off 10 feet above the surface and hover for approximately 30 seconds, aiming to make the very first powered flight on another world. Depending on how the first test goes, the following tests will involve Ingenuity floating to greater heights and buzzing around its racecourse-shaped flight zone near the Jezero crater on Mars.