During its sixth flight on the Red Planet, NASA’s Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, was appalled when the aircraft lost stability in the air. Fortunately, the machine was able to overcome the situation and make a safe landing.
The flight took place on May 22, but NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which oversees Ingenuity’s Mars mission, has only revealed details of the incident.
The sixth flight of the helicopter was going well as it planned a flight of 215 meters to the surface of Mars at an altitude of 10 meters.
But at 150 meters, Ingenuity began to change its speed, bending back and forth in an oscillating pattern, and encountered spikes in power consumption, as well as continued unpredictable behavior throughout the rest of the flight. .
After analyzing the incident, the team at JPL discovered a glitch in one of the systems that helps Ingenuity estimate its speed and maintain stability in the air.
The system uses images of the ground taken by Ingenuity’s navigation camera. The images are fed through an algorithm for rapid processing, which in turn causes the data plane to make the necessary adjustments to its position, velocity, and altitude.
On its sixth flight, an image was lost due to a glitch in the pipeline of images delivered by the camera, causing the algorithm to go out of sync. This caused the 4-pound, 19-inch-high helicopter to make its adjustments incorrectly, causing unexpected flight behavior.
JPL said in its account of the incident, “The resulting discrepancies significantly reduced the information used to fly the helicopter, thereby continuously ‘correcting’ the estimates.”
The team was relieved to report that, regardless of what happened, Ingenuity was able to maintain the flight and touch down safely within about 5 meters of its target landing location.
Ingenuity flights are autonomous, but receive instructions for each of its aerial adventures from JPL engineers in Southern California. In April, the machine became the first aircraft to achieve a controlled, controlled flight on another planet. Since then, it has been taking increasingly complex flights without major malfunctions – until its most recent trip, ie.
Commenting on the incident, JPL stated, “In a very real sense, Ingenuity introduced through the situation, and while the flight exposed a time vulnerability that would now have to be addressed, it did so in many ways to the system. Confirmed robustness. “
It added that, although it certainly did not plan to subject it to simplicity for such a stressful flight, the discrepancy meant that it now contained valuable flight data related to the “outer reach of the helicopter’s performance envelope”.
JPL said the data “will be carefully analyzed in the coming years, thereby expanding our store of knowledge about helicopters flying on Mars.”