Mars Helicopter flight delayed to no earlier than April 14

Posted at 1:38 PM, Apr 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-11 14:01:49-04

NASA LANGLEY - It's a historic flight that will be out of this planet, literally.

After some six years of research, simulations and tests NASA will soon conduct the first flight for the Ingenuity Helicopter on Mars.

"Oh it's exciting, it's very exciting," said Susan Gorton, NASA Project Manager for the Revolutionary Vertical Lift Technology Project.

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.

"The whole purpose is to demonstrate and prove that we can fly on Mars and after that, after we prove that, that means we understand how to do it and our next vehicles can be bigger and more capable. They can really become science instruments to help the rovers explore the planet," Gorton said.

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.

The watchdog timer oversees the command sequence and alerts the system to any potential issues. It helps the system stay safe by not proceeding if an issue is observed and worked as planned.

The helicopter team is reviewing telemetry to diagnose and understand the issue. Following that, they will reschedule the full-speed test.

Susan Gorton is the NASA Project Manager for the Revolutionary Vertical Lift Technology Project which is based out of Langley Research Center in Hampton. Before heading to mars -- the helicopter underwent testing right here in Hampton Roads at NASA Langley.

"The main part that Langley played was using our computer analysis to calculate what the air was going to do around those rotors," she said.

There is also a little local history on board.

According to NASA, while Ingenuity will attempt the first powered, controlled flight on another planet, the first powered, controlled flight on Earth took place Dec. 17, 1903, on the windswept dunes of Kill Devil Hill, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Orville and Wilbur Wright covered 120 feet in 12 seconds during the first flight. The Wright brothers made four flights that day, each longer than the previous.

A small amount of the material that covered one of the wings of the Wright brothers’ aircraft, known as the Flyer, during the first flight is now aboard Ingenuity.

NASA said the helicopter will hover for 30 seconds ten feet above the surface of Mars for this first flight. The agency said it hopes to increase the difficulty of the flights as more are carried out.

"Our next missions can be so much more advanced because of what we'll learn from Ingenuity," Gorton said. "It's really a momentous occasion for us at NASA, but for us in the country."

Follow along with NASA's updates on Ingenuity here.