NASA’s Mars helicopter experiences ‘anomaly’ delaying 14th flight

NASA’s experimental ingenuity helicopter ahead of its first flight to Mars.

NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASU

This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

NASA’s unattainable Mars helicopter ingenuity pauses briefly before attempting its next flight. The rotorcraft was scheduled for a short gliding exercise on September 18th. “It turned out to be an uneventful flight because ingenuity decided not to take off,” Jaakko Karras, deputy for the operation, said in a status update this week.

The lack of flight of the invention was a good thing. The chopper discovered an anomaly in two flight control servomotors while running a routine pre-check of its systems.

The cancellation of the flight means that ingenuity will only try to depart before sometime after mid-October. That the reason for the prolonged delay is Mars’ solar connection, a time when Earth and Mars face each other with the sun in between. It can cause communication problems between Earth and our robot explorers on and around the red planet. NASA will stop sending commands between October 2nd and 16th.

Ingenuity is facing a challenging time on Mars as the seasons change, and it needs to make some adjustments in how it flies, thanks to a drop in atmospheric density. Rotorcraft successfully conducted a high-speed test to see if it could compensate for the changes, and that test went well. The next step was to try a hovercraft, which was when the anomaly occurred.

The invention team troubleshoots. Karras suggested that moving parts may show signs of wear, as the rotor boat has flown much more times than originally planned, but there are various possible explanations for the anomaly.

Ingenuity already overcame a technical flaw and has thrived under the challenging conditions on Mars. Karras said: “We have a number of tools available to review the anomaly and we are optimistic that we will get past that and fly again soon.”

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