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Ingenuity fails to take off on 4th flight

When early today Ingenuity attempted to complete its fourth and most ambitious test flight on Mars the helicopter did not lift off, for reasons that engineers are still investigating.

[JPL] engineers are assessing the data, since it’s not yet clear what caused the failure. One potential cause is a software issue that first showed up during a high-speed spin test ahead of the chopper’s first flight. That test failed because Ingenuity’s flight computer was unable to transition from “pre-flight” to “flight” mode. Within a few days, though, [JPL] engineers resolved the issue with a quick software rewrite.

But those engineers determined that their fix would only successfully transition the helicopter into flight mode 85% of the time. So Thursday’s attempt may have fallen into the 15% of instances in which it doesn’t work.

This flight was supposed to fly south for about 430 feet, take pictures, and then return to its take-off point. If they can trouble-shoot the issue they hope to do another flight quickly. They still have a week left in their 30 day test period.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


  • Kyle

    Is that 30 day test period a self imposed dead line or is that how long Ingenuity’s battery would last? They should try to debug the issue with the helicopter to the point of where they could fly it ahead of the rover, then keep leep frogging it until the rotors give out.

  • Kyle: That 30 day (actually 30 sols, which is slightly longer) is the planned time. I suspect it could be extended, but that would then delay Perseverance’s mission to explore Jezero Crater. At a certain point it makes no sense to just do more flights if they have the engineering data they need.

    I don’t know what they will decide but I would guess they will make at least one more flight attempt to make sure they understand why today’s flight aborted, then maybe do another flight to failure, to see how much range this prototype can give them.

  • Kyle

    Mr Zimmerman: I hope they do get to the point were they can fly the helo to failure, it would be a shame if they have to abandon a functioning instrument due to time constraints, or a software issue for that matter. I would much rather have the reason be a mechanical issue, but I am just a space fanboy, not a scientist.

  • Skunk Bucket

    So was the software for Ingenuity written by the same folks who work for Boeing? It feels like we’ve been seeing a lot of these issues lately.

  • Skunk Bucket: No, the software was not written by Boeing. Where do you get that fantasy? This was designed and built by JPL. And the software issue is quite reasonable for a test vehicle, as Ingenuity is.

  • Skunk Bucket

    Sorry, I was trying to be humorous, but I probably should have including an emoji to make it more clear. The ability to reprogram a helicopter sitting on the surface of Mars would have sounded like science fiction only a few years ago. I’m also quite impressed that they can get enough lift in such a thin atmosphere to fly, even considering the lower gravity.

  • James Street

    They’ll figure it out. Robert made the good point after the first bug that while it had been tested on earth in an atmospheric chamber with pulleys and weights to simulate earth’s gravity on Ingenuity, the blades themselves had never spun in Martian gravity.

  • Stephen Egan

    Kudos to JPL and NASA, because it’s difficult to make absolutely *sure* your code is right and tight. They program in so many failsafes, and that can be a good thing because there are NO repair facilities available!

    At least, not yet…


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