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NASA now targeting next week for first Mars helicopter flight

Flight previously scheduled for Sunday at 8 p.m.

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
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 (WKMG)

ORLANDO, Fla. – NASA has pushed back the target date for the first flight of its tiny helicopter on Mars to next week, according to the space agency.

Officials confirmed the delay on Twitter Saturday afternoon, just one day before the helicopter was set to take flight. NASA says Ingenuity’s first flight will now take place no sooner than Wednesday.

“We’re now targeting no earlier than Wednesday, April 14, for our Ingenuity #MarsHelicopter’s attempt at the first powered, controlled flight on another planet,” the agency write in a tweet.

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When the 4-pound helicopter does perform the first controlled flight on another world, NASA teams will celebrate Ingenuity’s biggest milestone on its Mars mission.

The small helicopter recently successfully unfurled from the belly of NASA’s Mars rover, Perseverance, and was able to survive, creating its own power from the sun.

Ingenuity is a technology demonstration mission to determine if small helicopters could be used on future Mars missions or to other worlds. Every milestone completed for the $80 million-mission is an achievement for the team behind the innovative chopper.

First, it needed to survive the journey to Mars, then successfully deploy from the underbelly of the Perseverance rover, surviving a Martian cold night on its own is the latest success for Ingenuity. However, it has more boxes to check before it flies on Mars.

The decision to delay the flight, which was originally scheduled for 8 p.m. Sunday, was based on data collected during a test Friday night.

“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,” NASA officials wrote in a status update Saturday. “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.”

According to NASA, the watchdog timer oversees the command sequence and notifies the system of any potential problems. It won’t proceed if any possible issues are identified and not worked out as planned.

NASA officials said their helicopter team is reviewing telemetry to diagnose and understand the issue. Once they do, the full-speed test will be rescheduled.

Learn more about the mission here.


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