Engine anomaly causes Ingenuity's 14th Mars flight to be delayed

The next flight of NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter will take a little longer than expected. The idea was that the 14th flight of the aircraft would take place on the day 17 from September to put into practice the helicopter’s abilities to fly at a speed slightly higher than what it had been following until then. However, during a test of rotating the blades at higher speed, an anomaly occurred and prevented the flight from taking place, which ended up being postponed.

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This time, Ingenuity would go flying with its blades spinning a little faster than before — instead of 2.23 revolutions per minute (RPM), the team set it to fly with 2700 RPM as a function of Mars’ atmosphere, which is getting thinner due to seasonal changes. A brief test was performed on the day 15, and the blades rotated at 2.23 RPM with the helicopter on the ground, which seemed to show that everything was ready for the short flight planned for the day 15.

— NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) September 15, 2021

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However, the big day arrived and Ingenuity “decided” not to leave the ground. Jaako Karras, Ingenuity’s deputy chief of operations, explains that a problem arose, and that the helicopter worked as expected. “Ingenuity detected an anomaly in two of its servo motors during pre-flight checks and did exactly what it was supposed to do: it canceled the flight,” he said. Ingenuity has six motors that operate for each of the two rotors, which adjust their rotation so the helicopter controls its orientation and position.

According to him, the servo motors are much smaller than those that turn the rotors, but they perform a great amount of work and are essential for the realization of stable and controlled flights. Data obtained on the day 23 of September showed that two of the engines oscillated rapidly, and the team continues to investigate the reason behind this. One possibility is the wear of gears and engine linkages; after all, Ingenuity is a technology demonstration that was designed to fly only five times.

Other tests were carried out on the days 21 and 18, and the team is confident that Ingenuity will be able to fly again soon. However, they will have to work on the analysis in a few weeks as Mars is approaching solar conjunction. As this will be a period in which the planet will be “behind” the Sun in relation to the Earth, communication with Ingenuity may suffer interference and, therefore, run out of new commands until the end of the conjunction.

Thus, the helicopter and the Perseverance rover will keep each other company, communicating once a week and sending basic information on the status of the system. “We see each other on the other side of the conjunction!” concluded Karras.

Source: Space.com, NASA

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