Ingenuity got stuck on the surface of Mars on Thursday when it was about to fly high.
A software problem prevented NASA’s helicopter from taking off for the aircraft’s fourth and most ambitious flight to date.
Engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which oversees Ingenuity’s Mars mission, described the helicopter as “safe and sound,” adding that it will try again on Friday April 30th.
Ingenuity made history on April 19 when it was the first aircraft to perform powered, controlled flight on another planet. Since then, the 4-pound, 19-inch-tall drone-like vehicle has completed two more flights of increasing complexity.
Thursday’s flight efforts failed due to a software problem that first appeared when testing Ingenuity’s rotors before the first flight when the aircraft was unable to switch from pre-flight mode to flight mode. JPL engineers sent an update to the Ingenuity software within days, but said the update would have a 15% failure rate that would prevent the aircraft from going into flight mode.
The team said it will retry the fourth flight on Friday at 10:46 a.m. ET (7:46 a.m. PT). Initial data from Ingenuity is expected to arrive at JPL’s base in California at 1:39 pm ET (10:39 am ET).
Space fans will be excited to see whether Ingenuity can make its fourth and most complex flight to date in the super-thin Martian atmosphere.
While the first flight of the helicopter only included a hover, it flew over the surface of Mars on the second and third missions. On the next flight, however, Ingenuity will fly faster and further than ever before. JPL plans to have the helicopter ascend to a height of 5 meters before starting a 117 second flight, 37 seconds longer than before.
The autonomous aircraft will also increase its airspeed from 2 meters per second on its final flight to 3.5 meters per second while flying 133 meters above the Martian surface and 83 meters further than on its third flight. During part of its journey, Ingenuity will also use its downward-facing camera to take pictures of the terrain below.
Future Mars helicopters are sure to be used to collect images of rocky terrain too difficult for a wheeled rover. Therefore, the JPL team is committed to putting Ingenuity through its paces in order to obtain as much useful data as possible.