Mars    Helicopter

Status Updates

Mars Helicopter's Flight Four Rescheduled
Ingenuity helicopter on Mars
NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image using its Right Mastcam-Z camera. Mastcam-Z is a pair of cameras located high on the rover’s mast. This is one still frame from a sequence captured by the camera while taking video on April 29. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS.
Data received from the Mars Ingenuity helicopter on Thursday morning shows the helicopter did not execute its planned fourth flight as scheduled. The helicopter is safe and in good health. Data returned during a downlink at 1:21 p.m. EDT (10:21 a.m. PDT) indicates the helicopter did not transition to flight mode, which is required for the flight to take place.
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We Are Prepping for Ingenuity's Third Flight Test
Ingenuity helicopter on Mars
This is the first color image of the Martian surface taken by an aerial vehicle while it was aloft. The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter captured it with its color camera during its second successful flight test on April 22, 2021. At the time this image, Ingenuity was 17 feet (5.2 meters) above the surface. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›
Yesterday I got to write the entry for the second successful experimental flight test from "Wright Brothers Field" in the project’s official logbook, which is called "The Nominal Pilot’s Logbook for Planets and Moons." Next chance to make an entry is coming up fast: We’re targeting our third flight for this Sunday, April 25, with initial datasets and imagery arriving in our control room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory around 7:16 a.m. PDT (10:16 a.m. EDT).
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We're Getting Ready for Ingenuity’s Second Flight
Ingenuity helicopter on Mars
Left to right: Buzz Aldrin took this iconic image of a bootprint on the Moon during the Apollo 11 moonwalk on July 20, 1969. NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter took this shot, capturing its own shadow, while hovering over the Martian surface on April 19, 2021, during the first instance of powered, controlled flight on another planet. It used its navigation camera, which autonomously tracks the ground during flight. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›
With the first flight of Ingenuity a success, we’re looking toward our second taking place on April 22, which is the 18th of the 30 sols (Martian days) of our flight test window. For this second flight test at “Wright Brothers Field,” we are targeting a takeoff time for 5:30 a.m. EDT (2:30 a.m. PDT), or 12:30 p.m. Local Mean Solar Time. But we’re looking to go a little bigger this time. On the first flight, Ingenuity hovered 10 feet (3 meters) above the surface. This time around, we plan to trying climbing to 16 feet (5 meters) in this flight test. Then, after the helicopter hovers briefly, it will go into a slight tilt and move sideways for 7 feet (2 meters). Then Ingenuity will come to a stop, hover in place, and make turns to point its color camera in different directions before heading back to the center of the airfield to land. Of course, all of this is done autonomously, based on commands we sent to Perseverance to relay to Ingenuity the night before.
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Why We Choose to Try Our First Helicopter Flight on Monday
Ingenuity helicopter on Mars
This image from NASA’s Perseverance rover shows the agency’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter right after it successfully completed a high-speed spin-up test. It was captured by the Mastcam-Z instrument on Perseverance on April 16, 2021 (the 55th sol, or Martian day, of the rover’s mission). The image has been slightly processed (stretched and cropped). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›
At 12:31 a.m. PDT on Monday, April 19, 2021, the Ingenuity helicopter team is going to attempt the first ever powered, controlled flight on another planet. We are optimistic that the helicopter will be able to take off from the Martian surface at this time; however, this is a test and we are prepared that it may not occur. Let me explain.
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Working the Challenge: Two Paths to First Flight on Mars
Ingenuity helicopter on Mars
NASA's Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter using its Left Mastcam-Z camera, on Apr. 16, 2021 (Sol 55). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU. Download image ›
Today, April 16, on the 154th anniversary of Wilbur Wright’s birth, the Ingenuity flight team received information that the helicopter was able to complete a rapid spin test. The completion of the full-speed spin is an important milestone on the path to flight as the team continues to work on the command sequence issue identified on Sol 49 (April 9). How did we get to this milestone? As with any engineering challenge, there are multiple approaches that are considered. In this case, the team has been working two potential solutions in parallel. The approach that led to today's successful spin test entailed adding a few commands to the flight sequence. This approach was tested extensively on both Earth and Mars, and was performed without jeopardizing the safety of the helicopter. A second approach requires minor modification and reinstallation of Ingenuity's flight control software. The software swap is a straightforward fix to a known issue. But, it will take a bit longer to perform and is a modification to software that has remained stable and unchanged for close to two years. Validation and testing have taken several days, and transfer and loading of these new files will take several more.
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Work Progresses Toward Ingenuity’s First Flight on Mars
Ingenuity helicopter on Mars
NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter unlocked its rotor blades, allowing them to spin freely, on April 7, 2021, the 47th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›
The Ingenuity team has identified a software solution for the command sequence issue identified on Sol 49 (April 9) during a planned high-speed spin-up test of the helicopter’s rotors. Over the weekend, the team considered and tested multiple potential solutions to this issue, concluding that minor modification and reinstallation of Ingenuity’s flight control software is the most robust path forward. This software update will modify the process by which the two flight controllers boot up, allowing the hardware and software to safely transition to the flight state. Modifications to the flight software are being independently reviewed and validated today and tomorrow in testbeds at JPL.
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Mars Helicopter Flight Delayed to No Earlier than April 14
Ingenuity helicopter on Mars
NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter unlocked its rotor blades, allowing them to spin freely, on April 7, 2021, the 47th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU. Download image ›
Based on data from the Ingenuity Mars helicopter that arrived late Friday night, NASA has chosen to reschedule the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter’s first experimental flight to no earlier than April 14. During a high-speed spin test of the rotors on Friday, the command sequence controlling the test ended early due to a “watchdog” timer expiration. This occurred as it was trying to transition the flight computer from ‘Pre-Flight’ to ‘Flight’ mode. The helicopter is safe and healthy and communicated its full telemetry set to Earth.
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When Should Ingenuity Fly?
Ingenuity helicopter on Mars
NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter is seen here in a close-up taken by Mastcam-Z, a pair of zoomable cameras aboard the Perseverance rover. This image was taken on April 5, the 45th Martian day, or sol, of the mission.' Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU. Download image ›
While the Ingenuity team has been focusing on getting ready for its first flight on Mars, the team has also been busy selecting a time for that flight. A number of factors go into this important decision. First, Ingenuity cannot fly at night. It depends on its camera to observe the ground while navigating, and that wouldn't be possible at night. If it weren't for that, nighttime would be a good time for a helicopter to fly on Mars. The air density would be higher, which would make flying easier.
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It's Cold on Mars
Ingenuity helicopter on Mars
NASA's Ingenuity helicopter can be seen here with all four of its legs deployed before dropping from the belly of the Perseverance rover on March 30, 2021, the 39th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›
Within a few days, Ingenuity will be on the surface of Mars. Until now it has been connected to the Perseverance rover, which allowed Ingenuity to charge its battery as well as use a thermostat-controlled heater powered by the rover. This heater keeps the interior at about 45 degrees F through the bitter cold of the Martian night, where temperatures can drop to as low as -130F. That comfortably protects key components such as the battery and some of the sensitive electronics from harm at very cold temperatures.
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How is the Weather on Mars?
Ingenuity helicopter on Mars
An artist's concept of NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter flying through the Red Planet's skies. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›
Much like flying an aircraft on Earth, the weather on Mars is also important for flying Ingenuity. The obvious weather we are interested in could be called Atmospheric Weather, but there is also a different kind of weather we care about – Space Weather, which has to do with the fact that Ingenuity is as much a spacecraft as an aircraft.
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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.

Contributors+

  • MiMi Aung
    Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Project Manager, NASA/JPL
  • Bob Balaram
    Chief Engineer for the Mars Helicopter Project, NASA/JPL
  • Håvard Grip
    Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Chief Pilot, NASA/JPL
  • Josh Ravich
    Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Mechanical Engineering Lead, NASA/JPL