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NASA Helicopter 'Ingenuity' Encounters First Major Problem While Flying Over Mars

Junie Sihlangu
May 31, 2021
11:10 A.M.
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NASA sent a Mars helicopter for its sixth test flight recently, but it experienced some problems. One of the problems it faced was power consumption hikes as it navigated its way.

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Last month, NASA launched the “Ingenuity” helicopter for its sixth test flight to Mars. Unfortunately, a navigation timing error sent the helicopter on a wild ride as it faced its first major problem since it took off.

The issues began on May 22, 2021, a minute into the helicopter’s flight at an altitude of 33 feet. An image taken by an onboard camera failed to register in the navigation system.

A close-up photograph of the planet Mars | Photo: Pixabay/WikiImages

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The error led the entire timing sequence to be thrown off, and the helicopter was left confused concerning its location. The helicopter’s chief pilot, Havard Grip, gave more information on the incident.

He revealed that the Ingenuity suffered power consumption spikes and started tilting back and forth as much as 20 degrees. Grip gave his update on how the flight went online.

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Luckily, the craft had a built-in system that was meant to provide an extra margin for stability. Grip said the system “came to the rescue,” helping the helicopter land within 16 feet of its intended touchdown site.

Last Thursday, officials at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory confirmed the safe landing of the craft. In April 2021, “Ingenuity” became the first aircraft to make a powered flight on another planet.

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This was done two months after landing on Mars with NASA’s rover Perseverance. Before this recent incident, the 4-pound helicopter had successfully flown five times, with each trip becoming more challenging.

The $85 million demo technology impressed NASA so much that its mission was extended by a month. The issues recently experienced were the first for this bonus period, and engineers were looking into the problems.

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Ingenuity was programmed to travel a total of over 700 feet to demonstrate its aerial photography skills. The helicopter took stereo images of Mars terrain to its west while flying before going down in a new landing field.

Back in April 2021, the helicopter managed to send back its first color images from Mars. The photographs showed a unique perspective of the Mar's barren surface from above the ground.

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NASA revealed that this trip was a short one as it only lasted for around 51.9 seconds. However, that was more than enough time for Ingenuity to cover several new and impressive milestones.

These included flying at a higher maximum altitude, improved sideways movement, and increased flight duration. At the time of the flight, Ingenuity had just done its second successful flight.

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