NASA Mars Helicopter Has a Dead Sensor, but It Might Still Fly

This story is a part of Welcome to Mars, our sequence exploring the crimson planet.

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter has performed every little thing it got down to do and far, far more. Will its legacy of flight be prolonged? The rotorcraft’s group is coping with a critical technical difficulty, nevertheless it’s hoping a software program patch may help.

Ingenuity — the flying companion to NASA’s Perseverance rover — is making an attempt to outlive wintry situations within the Jezero Crater. It was initially constructed to exhibit that powered, managed flight was attainable on Mars. The helicopter achieved that feat in April 2021. It has since flown 28 occasions The colder and shorter days at the moment are taking a toll, although, inflicting the solar-powered chopper to close down in a single day and expose its parts to frigid temperatures. 

Throughout latest preparations for one more flight, the Ingenuity group found the helicopter’s inclinometer, a navigation sensor, had stopped working. 

“A nonworking navigation sensor feels like an enormous deal — and it’s — nevertheless it’s not essentially an finish to our flying at Mars,” Ingenuity chief pilot Havard Grip mentioned Monday in a standing replace.

Ingenuity makes use of a collection of sensors to determine the place it’s in area, info that is wanted for takeoff, flight and touchdown. 

“The inclinometer consists of two accelerometers, whose sole goal is to measure gravity previous to spin-up and takeoff; the course of the sensed gravity is used to find out how Ingenuity is oriented relative to the downward course,” Grip mentioned. Fortuitously, the inclinometer information is not wanted in the course of the precise flights.

The rotorcraft wants a unique method to get the identical info the inclinometer would have offered. The rotorcraft group’s intelligent repair includes utilizing a unique sensor to deal with the damaged sensor’s duties. To try this, the group is sending Ingenuity a software program patch.

Even higher, Ingenuity’s handlers thought one thing like this may occur. 

“Anticipating that this case may doubtlessly come up, we ready the required software program patch previous to final yr’s arrival on Mars and stored it on the shelf for this eventuality,” Grip mentioned.

If may take a couple of days to put in and take a look at the patch, however NASA hopes the chopper will take to the Martian skies “within the close to future” for flight No. 29, which might assist hold it in communication with Perseverance because the rover explores an intriguing delta area.

Ingenuity has survived a sequence of technical glitches throughout its time on Mars, so hope is warranted as soon as once more.

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