Mars Helicopter Flying In Tougher Martian Summer Conditions On New Mission

The NASA Mars helicopter is back in the air and getting ready for a series of flights that will take it back to where it all started. The helicopter Ingenuity was originally designed by JPL engineers as a mission to demonstrate that flying on another planet was possible. The mission only expected a handful of flights over a period of 30 Martian days, but the helicopter has been flying since April and is now on its 15th flight.

In late September, just days before the solar conjunction put all rovers on Mars in a communication blackout, Ingenuity reported a malfunction. The malfunction prevented the helicopter from flying and resulted in Flight 14 being canceled. Weeks went by before Ingenuity could successfully complete the flight to prove it could fly in a less dense atmosphere.

Related: Mars Helicopter Flight Aborted Due To Anomaly: Here's What Happened

The Mars helicopter successfully completed its 15th flight on Mars,” NASA announced on Twitter. Flight 15 is the beginning of a long journey back to where Ingenuity began flying. Ingenuity can only fly from 90 to 120 seconds at a time, so it will need to take on 4 to 7 flights to get back to the Wright Brothers Field, depending on where the team decides to land. After that NASA said the helicopter will venture into uncharted and unknown territories for Ingenuity.

Photo via NASA

NASA and JPL engineers are strangely silent about Ingenuity’s Flight 14 servo malfunction. They have not addressed the malfunction, nor how they fixed it or what caused it. Ingenuity had experienced a servo oscillation malfunction when it speed up its RPM to compensate for Mars’s summer season changes that made the atmosphere less dense. The team obviously corrected whatever went wrong but hasn't said much about it.

In the latest communication, NASA said the issue of “solar conjunction” and RPMs was “behind them.” Whether this means NASA is linking the malfunction to the solar conjunction is unclear. During solar conjunction, communications are cut off because solar plasma can corrupt data. The solar conjunction occurs when the sun is aligned between Mars and Earth. The stress of pushing technology to the limit in the extreme environment of the Red Planet can also be a probable cause for a malfunction.

NASA engineers said that they are “considering preparing a flight software upgrade” to improve flight capacities for the Martian summer and the challenges ahead. The malfunction had occurred when the RPMs were tested at 2,800 RPMs, now NASA is flying at 2,700 RPMs, so adjustments have been made. What exactly happened with the Mars helicopter remains a secret that JPL is not sharing. They did, however, promise to share with the public the latest scientific images taken by the first flying man-made object on another planet.

Next: This Mars Simulation Is Being Ruined By Tourists And Drones

Source: NASA-JPL/Twitter



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