The engineering team for the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars have decided to attempt the first test flight tonight, scheduled for 3:30 am (Eastern) in the early morning hours tomorrow.
Data from the first flight will return to Earth a few hours [later] following the autonomous flight. A livestream will begin at 6:15 a.m. EDT (3:15 a.m. PDT) as the helicopter team prepares to receive the data downlink in the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
NASA propaganda will begin on NASA TV at 3:30 am (Eastern), but the actual live stream of the flight will not air until about 6:30 am (Eastern) on April 19th.
At the first link above the engineers explain their decision to proceed immediately.
Over the last week, we’ve been testing the two solutions to address the “watchdog” timer issue that prevented the helicopter from transitioning to “flight mode” and performing a high-speed spin test of the rotors on April 9. These solutions, which have each been verified for use in flight are: 1) adjusting the command sequence from Earth to slightly alter the timing of this transition, and 2) modifying and reinstalling the existing flight control software, which has been stable and healthy for close to two years. The first solution requires adding a few commands to the flight operations sequence and has been tested on both Earth and Mars. From testing this technique on Ingenuity over the last few days, we know this approach is likely to allow us to transition to flight mode and prepare for lift-off about 85% of the time. This solution leaves the helicopter safe if the transition to flight mode is not completed. On Friday, we employed this solution to perform our first-ever high-speed spin test on Mars.
This solution is the least disruptive to a helicopter that, up until we identified the watchdog issue, has been behaving just as we expected. It is the most straightforward, since we do not have to change its configuration.
We also know that if the first attempt does not work on Monday, we can try these commands again, with good probability that subsequent tries in the days following would work even if the first doesn’t. For these reasons, we’ve chosen to pursue this path.
If this least disruptive solution does not work they will then proceed with modifying and uploading new flight control software.
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