NASA has given an eager public a new date for the Ingenuity helicopters first controlled flight on Mars: Monday, April 19. This would be the third time Ingenuitys flight has been rescheduled to date, and with some luck, it might be the real deal.
On Saturday, the space agency announced that Ingenuity, its tiny 4-pound (1.8 kg) helicopter, would attempt to make its first flight on Monday at approximately 3:30 a.m. ET. The new date follows two attempts that were delayed due to preflight checks and a command sequence issue that came up during a high-speed spin test of its rotors on April 9. That day, the test ended early due to a watchdog timer expiration while it was trying to transition the flight computer from pre-flight to flight mode, NASA explained.
Ingenuitys watchdog timer oversees the helicopters command sequence and alerts the system in case there are any potential issues. If there is a problem, the watchdog timer helps the system stay safe by not proceeding. Completing the spin test is an important milestone on Ingenuitys path to flight.
Ingenuitys flight team had been working on a solution to this problem in recent days. One involved adding a few commands to the helicopters flight sequence, while the other consisted of a modification and reinstallation of the helicopters flight control software. On Friday, Ingenuity successfully carried out the full-speed spin test it had been unable to complete on April 9.
To carry out the spin test, the team employed the flight sequence solution. The approach was tested extensively on both Earth and Mars, the flight team said in a status update on Friday, and was performed without jeopardizing the safety of Ingenuity, which cost $80 million and took years to develop. However, the team affirmed that it was still undecided on which solution to adopt for Ingenuitys first flight.
The software swap is a straightforward fix to a known issue, the team wrote. But, it will take a bit longer to perform and is a modification to software that has remained stable and unchanged for close to two years. Validation and testing have taken several days, and transfer and loading of these new files will take several more.
In the status update, the team said that it would have a meeting on Friday to analyze both solutions and determine which one it would adopt for Ingenuitys first flight. The team did not guarantee on Friday that it would agree on a new flight date, but judging by NASAs announcement, itvery likely did.
The announcement did not reveal which solution the team had adopted in the end, although well surely find out over the next few days.
If Ingenuity is successful, it will be the first time that any space agency carries out powered controlled flight on another planet. The tiny helicopter will attempt to make up to five test flights within a window of 30 Martian sols, or 31 Earth days. Using its downward-facing camera, it will take photos during its test flight, with the team expected to receive grainy black and white images at first and higher-resolution images later on.
During a previous news conference on Ingenuitys flight, NASA officials said that the Perseverance rover, which carried Ingenuity to Mars on its belly, will also attempt to capture images of its helicopter friends first flight.
NASA will begin hosting a live stream at 6:15 a.m. ET on Monday, which is when the team will receive data from Ingenuity and find out whether its first flight was successful. You can watch the live stream on YouTube below, as well as on NASAs app, website, and Facebook page. Additionally, if the flight does take place, NASA will hold a postflight briefing at 2 p.m. ET.