NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter on Mars needs a patch to keep flying after sensor failure

NASA's Ingenuity helicopter on Mars needs a patch to keep flying after sensor failure

Ingenuity at Airfield D: This image of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter was taken by the Perseverance rover’s Mastcam-Z instrument on June 15, 2021, the 114th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. The location, “Airfield D” (the fourth airfield), is just east of the “Séítah” geologic unit. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS.

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter on Mars suffered a sensor failure, according to Håvard Grip, the project’s chief helicopter pilot. In a recent blog post on NASA’s Science page, he described some of the challenges the little robot faces in a harsh environment and also noted that a sensor failure will require a computer fix.

Ingenuity has been on Mars since February 2021, with the Perseverance rover. Since then it has flown 28 times, far more than originally expected. Its original mission was to determine if a helicopter could fly on Mars. Ingenuity showed that it was possible, and much more. His current missions usually consist of surveying the landscape around Perseverance, helping chart his course.

But the harsh environment on Mars has posed challenges for the small helicopter and the crew working to fly it. First of all, according to Grip, since the helicopter was not supposed to last that long, no measures were taken to ensure that it could get enough power from the sun during the short winter days. martians. It must therefore stop at night. This leaves it exposed to temperatures as low as -80 degrees Celsius, which could damage its electronic components. And the constant change in extreme temperatures could also lead to damage. The helicopter, as well as all other vehicles sent to Mars, also has to deal with constant dust, which is even more prevalent in winter.

Ingenuity held up remarkably well despite these conditions, notes Grip. However, a sensor called the inclinometer stopped working. Although not required for flight, it is required to orient the helicopter before takeoff. Grip notes that the team that designed Ingenuity took this possibility into consideration and developed a patch to fix the problem before the helicopter arrived on Mars. The patch is intended to use information from other sensors and trick the helicopter into thinking it is receiving data from the inclinometer. He notes that the patch will be shipped and installed soon, and he expects Ingenuity to be back in flight soon after.

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