For SpaceUpClose.com & RocketSTEM
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – NASA’s groundbreaking Ingenuity Helicopter notched its 8th successful test flight on the Red Planet this week traveling for more than a minute and achieving a soft touchdown at another new ‘airfield’ – the fifth – after being upgraded with new flight software utilized for the 1st time now on its 3rd operational demonstration after transitioning to its new expanded role supporting the Perseverance rover mothership as an airborne science scout searching for science targets for the six wheeled robot.
Ingenuity flew for 77 seconds traveling about 525 feet (160 meters) south-southeast at an altitude of 33 feet (10 meters) and speed of 9 MPH (4 m/s) to touchdown at another new landing spot nicknamed ‘Airfield E’ – on Sol 120 or June 21, 2021.
The goal was to push the envelope of operations and apply lessons learned for ever greater achievements – since NASA gave permission to extend the mission for several months beyond the original 30-Sol cutoff of operations of a maximum of 5 test flights aimed at demonstrating whether control powered flight is possible given the extremely thin Martian atmosphere less than 1% as dense as Earth’s.
Furthermore planning for a ninth flight is already well underway with additional software upgrades in the works to enhance reliability and robustness to avoid the ‘anomaly” on Flight #6 that could have doomed the amazing craft last month.
The Mars Chopper handlers confirmed the successful outcome of the 8th flight conducted on June 21 via a brief tweet
“Another successful flight for Ingenuity! The #MarsHelicopter completed its 8th flight on Monday. It flew for 77.4 seconds and traveled 160 meters to a new landing spot about 133.5 meters from @NASAPersevere, capturing its own shadow in this image,” NASA JPL tweeted.
Another successful flight for Ingenuity! The#MarsHelicopter completed its 8th flight on Monday. It flew for 77.4 seconds and traveled 160 meters to a new landing spot about 133.5 meters from @NASAPersevere, capturing its own shadow in this image. pic.twitter.com/cDY3etLjTf
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) June 22, 2021
“As of June 21, 2021, Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has successfully flown its 8th flight, traveling about 525 feet (160 meters) south-southeast from Airfield D to the new Airfield E!”, the NASA JPL team confirm in a new update June 25.
“This marks the third flight in the Operations Demonstration Phase of Ingenuity, in which the team will continue to push the flight envelope of the aircraft while learning valuable operational lessons.”
“Keep on flying! #MarsHelicopter’s 8th flight on June 21 was the first flown after a software update, which fixed a known “flight-mode” transition issue. So what’s next for Ingenuity? The team’s operations lead shares more: NASA JPL tweeted in a detailed update Friday June 25 go.nasa.gov/2Sr7JfJ,”
Keep on flying! #MarsHelicopter’s 8th flight on June 21 was the first flown after a software update, which fixed a known “flight-mode” transition issue. So what’s next for Ingenuity? The team’s operations lead shares more: https://t.co/1pzoBf1PRU pic.twitter.com/dmSByPrXPj
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) June 25, 2021
Flight 8 took place two week after Flight 7 on June 8, 2021 flying from Airfield D to Airfield E and was the first to be performed after NASA JPL performing an update of its Flight-Controller flight software.
“All telemetry indicates that the update was a success!” said the NASA JPL engineering team controlling Ingenuity.
Check out my new Sol 114 mosaics showing Ingenuity on the surface and dramatically backdropped by Jezero Crater stitched from raw images taken by the Perseverance rover mothership on June 15, 2021 – a few sols after successfully completing Flight 7 on Sol 107 or June 8, 2021.
Furthermore my Sol 122 and 123 mosaics show additional views of wheel tracks and the shadow of Perseverance as well as a partial selfie of the deck the antennas and power source as the six wheeled robot continues her science campaign nearby after Flight #8 succeeded.
The software update fixed a known “flight-mode” transition issue known as the ‘Watchdog’ issue which has been a recurring problem encountered periodically since the choppers commissioning on Sol 49, April 2021.
The watching issue stops the helicopter from transitioning into the “flight-state” within the software about 15% of the time and prevents Ingenuity from spinning up its blades to full speed, and, therefore, stops it from flying.
“The issue stems from a computer protection and reliability feature between our Flight Controller microcontrollers and our Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA),” according to an update from the team.
“When attempting to transition to the “flight-state,” the watchdog on the FPGA would detect violations to its strict timing requirements and prevent Ingenuity from continuing with its planned spin/flight. The team identified a sequence workaround that would allow us to proceed with flight activities, but we have a 15% probability of needing re-attempts if the watchdog triggered again.
The software upgrade was fully successful
“The Ingenuity team is proud to say that last week we completed a flight software update of the Flight Controller microcontrollers on the helicopter, with the intent of permanently fixing the watchdog issue.
“This patch provides much needed reliability in the operations demonstration, ensuring that the heli and rover teams can plan for successful flights in the future. Following a 50 rpm slow-speed spin regression test on June 18, 2021, or Sol 116, Flight 8 confirmed that the FC flight software update was a success and that Ingenuity is ready to proceed with confidence into the next flights of the ops demo.”
A 9th flight is upcoming after the team completes another software upgrade to fix the ‘imaging pipeline glitch’ that caused the Flight 6 anomaly which resulted in the chopper instability and swinging wildly up to 20 degrees.
As a result of Flight #6 the team temporarily stopped operating the high resolution 13 megapixel color camera aboard Ingenuity because it may have contributed to the problems that could have crashed the chopper and ended its mission.
To date Ingenuity has completed 8 history making test flights on Mars proving that flying is possible on the Red Planet despite the ultra thin atmosphere.
The challenges of flying are incredible because the fully autonomous flight is carried out in the extremely thin Martian atmosphere with few air molecules amounting to less than 1% as dense as Earth’s– approximately equivalent to 3 times the height of Mount Everest – and under frigid Antarctica-like conditions of minus 90 C (Minus 130 F).
Perseverance touched down at Octavia E. Butler Landing with Ingenuity attached to its belly on Feb. 18, 2021. The helicopter was deployed to the surface of Jezero Crater on April 3.
Since then Ingenuity has far surpassed all prelaunch objectives and far outstripped checkouts during testing on Earth while making history as humanity’s first aircraft to fly beyond Earth during the 1st test flight on April 19.
The solar powered Ingenuity helicopter is a technology demonstration experiment aimed at attempting and demonstrating the first powered controlled flight on Mars.
The four legged Ingenuity has a mass of about 4.0 pounds (1.8 kilograms) and stands 1.6 feet or 19 inches (0.49 meters) high.
Ingenuity’s two counterrotating rotorblades are made of a lightweight carbon fiber foam core to provide lift in the thin Mars atmosphere and measure 4 feet (1.2 meters) and spin up to about 2500 rpm.
Watch Ken’s continuing reports about Mars 2020 Perseverance and Curiosity rovers, Artemis and NASA missions, SLS, Orion, SpaceX, ULA, Starlink, Commercial Crew and Starliner and Crew Dragon and onsite for live reporting of upcoming and recent SpaceX and ULA launches including Crew 1 & 2, Demo-2, ISS, X-37B, Solar Orbiter, NRO spysats and national security missions and more at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
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Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics.
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Ken has created hundreds of widely published Mars rover mosaics and lectures also about NASA’s Mars rovers
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