NASA aborts flight of Ingenuity helicopter on Mars after ‘anomaly’ is detected in its flight-control motors
NASA said its Ingenuity helicopter flying around on Mars suffered an ‘anomaly’ prior to its 14th flight on the Red Planet, prompting the flight to be delayed.
The 14th flight was supposed to happen on September 18, but the ‘anomaly’ occurred when two of Ingenuity’s flight-control servo motors oscillated during the pre-flight checkout, known as the ‘servo wiggle.’
Ingenuity promptly canceled the flight, Jaakko Karras, Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Deputy Operations Lead at NASA JPL, wrote in a blog post.
This is the first of Ingenuity’s flights that has been aborted for a hardware issue.
NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter suffered an ‘anomaly’ prior to its 14th flight on Mars
Two of its flight-control servo motors oscillated during the pre-flight checkout. Ingenuity has six servos in total, three on each rotor
To date, the Perseverance rover and Ingenuity, which was only scheduled to perform five flights, have spent more than seven months on Mars.
This flight would have shown Ingenuity’s ability to fly with 2,700 revolutions per minute, slightly more than the 2,537 rpms it has used previously, Space.com reported.
NASA is increasing Ingenuity’s (left) RPMs because of the ‘decreasing atmospheric density caused by seasonal changes on Mars’ on Mars’s Jezero Crater
INGENUITY FLIGHTS SO FAR
Flight one: April 19, 2021 with a vertical takeoff up to 9.8ft, stationary hover and a landing
Flight two: April 22, 2021 with a vertical takeoff up to 16ft, hover, then shift westward for 14ft before returning and landing
Flight three: April 25, 2021 with a vertical takeoff up to 16ft, hover, shift northwards for 328ft at an airspeed of 2 m/s before returning to land
Flight four: April 30, 2021 with a vertical takeoff up to 16ft, hover, shift southwards 873ft at 3.5m/s before returning to land
Flight five: May 7, 2021 with a vertical takeoff up to 33ft, hover, shift southwards 423ft at 3.5 m/s before landing at that new location
Flight six: May 22, 2021 with a vertical takeoff of 33ft, hover, shift southwest 492ft at 9mph, travel 49ft south, travel 164ft before returning to land
Flight seven: June 8, 2021 with a vertical takeoff of 33ft, hover, shift 348ft at 9mph, land at Airfield D
Flight eight: June 21, 2021 with a vertical takeoff, hover, shift southwest 520ft, land at Airfield E 438ft away from Perseverance
Flight nine: July 5, 2021 with a record length of 2,050ft southwest over a prospective research location at 16ft per second.
Flight 10: July 24, 2021 with a record height of 40 feet (12 meters) over Raised Ridges to Airfield G. Flight duration 165.4 seconds.
Flight 11: August 5, 2021 by flying 1,250ft for 130 seconds in preparation for a series of reconnaissance missions for the Perseverance rover.
Flight 12: August 16, 2021 by flying 1,476ft for 169 seconds, climbing 32.8ft in the air, over the ‘South Seitah’ region of Mars.
Flight 13: September 5, 2021 by flying 690ft for 160.5 seconds, climbing 26ft over one particular ridgeline over the ‘South Seitah’ region of Mars.
NASA is increasing Ingenuity’s RPMs because of the ‘decreasing atmospheric density caused by seasonal changes on Mars’ on Mars’s Jezero Crater, Karras wrote.
Ingenuity performed a test on September 15, spinning its rotors at 2,800 rpm successfully, with all other subsystems performing ‘flawlessly.’
However, two of the six servos (three on each rotor) did not perform three days later, resulting in Ingenuity stopping its flight.
NASA engineers are not sure what caused the ‘anomaly,’ though they have some ideas.
‘One theory for what’s happening is that moving parts in the servo gearboxes and swashplate linkages are beginning to show some wear now that Ingenuity has flown well over twice as many flights as originally planned (13 completed versus five planned),’ Karras wrote.
‘Wear in these moving parts would cause increased clearances and increased looseness, and could explain servo oscillation.
‘Another theory is that the high-speed spin test left the upper rotor at a position that loads servos 1 and 2 in a unique, oscillation-inducing way that we haven’t encountered before.’
Although the servo motors are smaller than the ones that spin the rotors, they are considered ‘critical to stable, controlled flight,’ Karras added.
Two of the servos oscillated in the pre-flight ‘servo wiggle.’
Two servo wiggle tests were performed successfully on September 21 and 23, Karras, explained, adding that the Ingenuity team is working to understand the anomaly and make the four-pound helicopter fly again.
Ingenuity, along with NASA’s other Mars missions, will undergo a two-week blackout due to a phenomena known as ‘solar conjunction.’ This event, which happens every two years, occurs when the Red Planet is on the other side of the sun from Earth
Ingenuity, along with NASA’s other Mars missions, will undergo a two-week blackout due to a phenomena known as ‘solar conjunction.’
This event, which happens every two years, occurs when the Red Planet is on the other side of the sun from Earth. It can interfere with communications and cause unexpected behavior.
However, Ingenuity will not be completely idle during the blackout, scheduled to take place between October 2 and October 16, Karras wrote.
‘Ingenuity and Perseverance will be configured to keep each other company by communicating roughly once a week, with Ingenuity sending basic system health information to its base station on Perseverance.’
He continued: ‘We will receive this data on Earth once we come out of conjunction, and will learn how Ingenuity performs over an extended period of relative inactivity on Mars.’
NASA MARS 2020: PERSEVERANCE ROVER AND INGENUITY HELICOPTER ARE SEARCHING FOR LIFE ON THE RED PLANET
NASA’s Mars 2020 mission was launched to search for signs of ancient life on the Red Planet in a bid to help scientists better understand how life evolved on Earth in the earliest years of the evolution of the solar system.
Named Perseverance, the main car-sized rover is exploring an ancient river delta within the Jezero Crater, which was once filled with a 1,600ft deep lake.
It is believed that the region hosted microbial life some 3.5 to 3.9 billion years ago and the rover will examine soil samples to hunt for evidence of the life.
Nasa’s Mars 2020 rover (artist’s impression) is searching for signs of ancient life on Mars in a bid to help scientists better understand how life evolved on our own planet
The $2.5 billion (£1.95 billion) Mars 2020 spaceship launched on July 30 with the rover and helicopter inside – and landed successfully on February 18, 2021.
Perseverance landed inside the crater and will slowly collect samples that will eventually be returned to Earth for further analysis.
A second mission will fly to the planet and return the samples, perhaps by the later 2020s in partnership with the European Space Agency.
This concept art shows the Mars 2020 rover landing on the red planet via NASA’s ‘sky-crane’ system