NASA writes software update for Ingenuity helicopter to enable first Mars flight

Won’t say when flight tests will resume, because uploads and testing are hard when your machine is 15 light minutes away


NASA will upload a "minor modification" of flight control software to the Ingenuity helicopter ahead of its first attempt at powered flight on Mars, and says the process of doing so means it can’t say when attempts to send craft into Red skies will take place.

The ‘copter was scheduled to attempt flight on April 11th, but NASA delayed lift-off due to a rotor spin test ending early “due to a 'watchdog' timer expiration".

Now the space agency says that problem can only be overcome by new software.

“The Ingenuity team has identified a software solution for the command sequence issue identified on Sol 49 (April 9) during a planned high-speed spin-up test of the helicopter’s rotors,” says NASA’s new statement.

Other options were considered, but it was decided that “minor modification and reinstallation of Ingenuity’s flight control software is the most robust path forward.”

“This software update will modify the process by which the two flight controllers boot up, allowing the hardware and software to safely transition to the flight state.”

This image was captured while NASA’s Perseverance rover drove on Mars for the first time on March 4, 2021. One of Perseverance’s Hazard Avoidance Cameras (Hazcams) captured this image as the rover completed a short traverse and turn from its landing site in Jezero Crater. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Devs will work on and test the software on Monday and Tuesday, but NASA warned “the process of validating it and completing its uplink to Ingenuity will take some time.”

Then comes testing – and waiting because Mars is currently 15 light-minutes from Earth.

“Our best estimate of a targeted flight date is fluid right now, but we are working toward achieving these milestones and will set a flight date next week,” says NASA’s update.

The agency’s post also reminds us all that Ingenuity is a technology demonstration, and therefore not a part of the mission expected to produce stellar results. The good news is that the ‘copter’s critical functions are all currently stable, so once new software is aboard there’s every reason to be optimistic given that Ingenuity’s parent craft, Perseverance, nailed its landing and has generally performed exceptionally well. ®


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