While setting up the Ingenuity helicopter for its next flight to Mars, NASA engineers ran into a problem: OOne of the helicopter’s navigation sensors is not working.
The sensor is called the inclinometer, which is actually two accelerometers that are supposed to measure gravity before the helicopter begins its take-off procedures. JThis information is fed into Ingenuity’s navigation computer algorithms. In other words, with an inclinometer out of order, the helicopter lacks the ability to orient itself relative to the ground, an important skill for a helicopter.
Impressive is the first major tech hitch Ingenuity has dealt with since landing on Mars (hidden under the Rover of Perseverance) in February 2021. Before that, a solar conjunction in October briefly knocked the rotorcraft out of service (as well as all other Martian spaceships), and more recently the the changing Martian climate has forced the little machine into safe mode. The previous event was scheduled, and the latter is now supported, with the helicopter effectively shutting down during Martian nights to save power.
These are just some of the measures NASA had to take to keep the functional rotorcraft. The ingenuity has amazed scientists and the public with its longevity. This just had to show that flight was possible on Mars, with the understanding that it would likely crash and be destroyed in the process.
Instead, Ingenuity has moved from a technology demonstration to a scout for the Perseverance rover. He has already flown 28 times in the year and change it was operational, and it has only become more ambitious in its flight time, ground speed and distance traveled.
Like we said before, it’s not wrong to want Ingenuity to collapse– if so, it would indicate that NASA has found a technical limitation that needs to be fixed in the future. But the helicopter continues to hum, even though the team must now find a new way to initialize the helicopter’s navigation algorithms.
To that end, fortunately, the Brave Rotorcraft is well-equipped with sensors. In a recent blog postHåvard Grip, Ingenuity’s chief pilot, detailed a workaround: Ingenuity’s inertial measurement unit – another component of its navigation system – has its own accelerometers, although these devices are not not designed to make measurements when the rotorcraft is static.
Grip wrote that the inertial measurement unit’s accelerometer could be an “acceptable fallback that will allow Ingenuity to resume flight.” To make this work, the team applies a software patch to Ingenuity’s computer, allowing the helicopter to overwrite the inclinometer data with new data. Because NASA the team is almost obsessively well prepared, the patch has been pre-written, should this specific event occur.
If all goes as planned, Ingenuity will soon make its 29th flight, southwest of its current location, to stay within range of Perseverance, which keep on rolling on on his rock-sampling efforts.
More: Exciting new video shows Ingenuity Helicopter’s record-breaking flight over Mars