Mars    Helicopter

Flight 8 Success, Software Updates, and Next Steps
Ingenuity Helicopter in 3D: NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter is seen here in 3D using images taken June 6, 2021, by the left and right Mastcam-Z cameras aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS. Download image ›

As of June 21, 2021, Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has successfully flown its 8th flight, traveling about 525 feet (160 meters) south-southeast from Airfield D to the new Airfield E! This marks the third flight in the Operations Demonstration Phase of Ingenuity, in which the team will continue to push the flight envelope of the aircraft while learning valuable operational lessons. Flight 8 was also the first flight the vehicle executed since performing an update of its Flight-Controller flight software and all telemetry indicates that the update was a success!

Flight 8

Flight Summary:

  • Climb to 10 meters
  • Translate ~160 meters SSE from Airfield D to Airfield E
  • Descend and land
  • Flight time ~78 seconds

Fixing the Watchdog Issue – Regaining Reliability in Flight Planning

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter acquired this image on June 22, 2021 using its black and white navigation camera. This camera is mounted in the helicopter’s fuselage and pointed directly downward to track the ground during flight. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter acquired this image on June 22, 2021 using its black and white navigation camera. This camera is mounted in the helicopter’s fuselage and pointed directly downward to track the ground during flight. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Ingenuity first encountered its watchdog issue during commissioning on Sol 49, April 9, 2021. The symptom of the problem is that the helicopter cannot transition into the “flight-state” within the software. Without this internal state transition, the helicopter cannot spin its blades up to full speed, and, therefore, cannot fly. The issue stems from a computer protection and reliability feature between our Flight Controller microcontrollers and our Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA). When attempting to transition to the “flight-state,” the watchdog on the FPGA would detect violations to its strict timing requirements and prevent Ingenuity from continuing with its planned spin/flight. The team identified a sequence workaround that would allow us to proceed with flight activities, but we have a 15% probability of needing re-attempts if the watchdog triggered again.

A timeline of the watchdog events is below, along with related blog posts.   

The Ingenuity team is proud to say that last week we completed a flight software update of the Flight Controller microcontrollers on the helicopter, with the intent of permanently fixing the watchdog issue. This patch provides much needed reliability in the operations demonstration, ensuring that the heli and rover teams can plan for successful flights in the future. Following a 50 rpm slow-speed spin regression test on June 18, 2021, or Sol 116, Flight 8 confirmed that the FC flight software update was a success and that Ingenuity is ready to proceed with confidence into the next flights of the ops demo.

Next Steps

Up next for the Ingenuity team is to tackle the only remaining flight software update, which will update a large portion of the Ingenuity’s navigation-computer software. This update will address the Flight 6 anomaly, where image timing delays manifested into aircraft estimation and control challenges.

During the course of analyzing the Flight 6 anomaly, the team determined that the process of capturing color RTE camera images may have been inducing the imaging pipeline glitch, which resulted in the instability encountered during Flight # 6. The team’s hypothesis is that the large CPU load involved in capturing the RTE’s 13-megapixel color images, could result in rare instances of navigation camera images being dropped in the pipeline. Those nav. camera image drops are what caused the Flight #6 anomaly.  That is why Flights 7 and 8 did not have any color images captured. This update will provide a mechanism for the Helicopter to detect and correct when image timestamps in the pipeline become out-of-synch/are dropped/skipped, while also re-enabling the capture of high-resolution 13-megapixel color images.  This update is planned to occur in the coming days, followed by Ingenuity’s ninth flight on Mars.

See Flight Log for info on all flights

About This Blog

These blog updates are provided by the Mars Helicopter team. The Mars Helicopter is a technology demonstration to test the first powered flight on Mars.

Dates of planned test activities are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays, helicopter and/or rover status.

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  • Ben Morrell
    Ingenuity Operations Engineer, NASA/JPL
  • Bob Balaram
    Chief Engineer for the Mars Helicopter Project, NASA/JPL
  • David Agle
    Media Representative, NASA/JPL
  • Håvard Grip
    Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Chief Pilot, NASA/JPL
  • Jaakko Karras
    Ingenuity Chief Engineer, NASA/JPL
  • Josh Ravich
    Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Mechanical Engineering Lead, NASA/JPL
  • Joshua Anderson
    Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Operations Lead, NASA/JPL
  • Martin Cacan
    Ingenuity Pilot, NASA/JPL
  • MiMi Aung
    Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Project Manager, NASA/JPL
  • Teddy Tzanetos
    Ingenuity Team Lead, NASA/JPL
  • Travis Brown
    Chief Engineer Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, NASA/JPL

Where is the Mars Helicopter?

Image of a rover pin-point at Perseverance's location on Mars, Jezero Crater

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