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Mars Helicopter fails first attempt at fourth flight

written by Hannah Dowling | April 30, 2021
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter captured this shot as it hovered 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 (NASA)

NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter was unable to take off for its fourth test flight on Mars on Thursday due to technical difficulties, however NASA is confident the fourth flight can be completed on Friday.

According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in southern California, data received back from Ingenuity on Thursday morning shows it did not execute its planned fourth flight as scheduled.

The helicopter reportedly did not properly transition into ‘flight mode’, which is required in order for it to take off.

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However, NASA’s JPL assured that the helicopter remains in good condition.

NASA was previously aware of a technical glitch that results in a 15 per cent chance per take-off that Ingenuity would not transition into flight mode.

The space agency is preparing to re-attempt the rotorcraft’s fourth test flight on Friday, and noted that the technical issue should not impact the device’s ability to complete future flights.

According the NASA, Ingenuity’s fourth test flight is set to demonstrate its potential in aerial planetary exploration, and push the little rotorcraft further than it has gone ever before.

The test is set to see the rotorcraft again climb to five metres high, and head south, to fly over rocks, sand ripples, and small impact craters, a total of 84 metres in distance.

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From there, as it continues to fly, Ingenuity will use its downward facing navigation camera to collect images of the surface every 1.2 metres, for the next 133 metres of its journey downrange.

The aircraft will then hover and continue to take images with its colour camera, before turning around and heading back to its take-off spot, at Wright Brothers Field.

“To achieve the distance necessary for this scouting flight, we’re going to break our own Mars records set during flight three,” said Johnny Lam, backup pilot for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at JPL.

“We’re upping the time airborne from 80 seconds to 117, increasing our max airspeed from two metres per second to 3.5, and more than doubling our total range.”

After receiving the data from the fourth flight, the Ingenuity team will consider its plan for the fifth flight.

“We have been kicking around several options regarding what a flight five could look like,” said Balaram. “But ask me about what they entail after a successful flight four. The team remains committed to building our flight experience one step at a time.”

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