After a successful mission on the red planet, the Ingenuity helicopter is set to fly around Mars for at least another month. Having completed four missions, the helicopter has to be reassigned with new objectives, which means it will be spending some more time with its companion, the Perseverance Rover.
Operations demonstrations phase
Lori Glaze, director at NASA’s Planetary Science Division, says that Ingenuity is transitioning from a technology demonstration phase to testing its technical capabilities and operations demonstrations where it will gather data. Perseverance rover, on the other hand, will continue to focus on its research objectives.
Glaze continues that the helicopter exceeded NASA’s expectations, prompting the additional objectives, not in the initial plan. The new objectives will help demonstrate what future exploration flights on Mars might be like.
In a press conference in California, MiMi Aung, Ingenuity project manager, expresses her team’s excitement about the helicopter’s success. She says that its transition to operations demonstration is like graduation, and it can now show how a rotor-craft can be used on the planet.
The helicopter was supposed to start its flight on Thursday. However, flight data shows that it did not lift off, so the flight was rescheduled for Friday.
Ingenuity hosts a watchdog timer that prevents it from flying if it senses a hindrance. However, there’s a 15% that the watchdog timer expires before the flight begins, preventing liftoff. Luckily, the timer does not affect future flights, and all it does is postpone the flight. Apparently, this is what happened on Thursday.
Bob Balaram, Ingenuity chief engineer, says that the team targets more flights with the aircraft. He adds that they might have to install a software fix to avoid gambling with the watchdog timer every time they need to use it.
Liftoff at last
The second attempt at flying was successful on Friday at 1049hrs or 1233hrs Mars local time. The flight data first reached the JPL control room at 1339 hrs ET. The perseverance rover also took footage of Ingenuity, including sound, for the first time.