NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has been hunkering down to hopefully survive the cold Martian winter and to do so it made flight 29 to get closer to the Perseverance rover. This flight follows NASA’s need to push a fix to recover capabilities lost when a critical sensor died.
Flight 29 brings Ingenuity to its winter resting spot
For a few weeks, Ingenuity has been keeping low to help survive the Martian winter. Currently, the helicopter is not producing enough power to hold a charge overnight. This problem was discovered when Ingenuity stopped responding to commands sent by Perseverance, and NASA’s controllers had to go searching for it.
Now each morning, controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory conduct a search for Ingenuity’s signal since it powers itself off each night, resetting the mission clock and forgetting when it needs to check in with the rover. Ingenuity’s flight 29 brings it closer to Perseverance, who has been roaming around a dried-up river delta, searching for signs of past life.
Return to flight after signal loss and dead sensor
The sensor loss last week by Ingenuity is called the inclinometer, which is used to initialize algorithms used by the flight computer. It does this by utilizing its two accelerometers to measure the direction of gravity prior to taking off. This measurement then validates the roll and pitch of Ingenuity.
Without a fix for the dead sensor, Ingenuity would be grounded indefinitely, but NASA already had a fix “sitting on the shelf.” This fix was updated as soon as the failed inclinometer was discovered, and JPL controllers validated the fixed worked and certified Ingenuity to fly. Ingenuity flight 29 took place over the weekend, flying for over a minute and traversing 179 meters (~587 feet) over the Martian surface.
This is the first flight since JPL discovered these two issues with the helicopter. The fix to the sensor failure was to use reducent accelerometers on other sensors to mimic the same task. However, there is no fix for the low power levels. We will have to wait and hope that Ingenuity makes it through it.
Looking forward to Ingenuity flight 30
The big milestone flight 30 for Ingenuity will likely be sometime around the fall here on Earth. This is when power levels should return to where the helicopter can last through the night. Ingenuity won’t, however, come back the same. It is already one sensor down, and there is a chance others will fail due to the ongoing “cold-soaking” taking place every day.
Flight 30 will presumably be the return to Ingenuity’s support flights for Perseverance, scouting out future locations to study. Originally intended to only fly five times, Ingenuity has proven extremely useful for better planning of science missions with its land-based companion. It has also proven that flying is possible on other planets, paving the way for more flying missions to be sent to other planets in the future.