Image without a caption

Ingenuity’s rotors will make about 2,500 revolutions per minute because of Mars's thin atmosphere. (NASA/AFP/Getty Images)

Previous posting on the subject is at First flight of Ingenuity expected no earlier than April 11, 2021The above photo and the excerpt, below, is from The Washington Post.

Ingenuity, which rocketed from Earth inside the belly of the space rover Perseverance on July 30, made it to Mars in February and spent just over a week getting ready for the spotlight. Perseverance, a $3 billion project to check for signs of life on Mars, is the main attraction. The robotic drone worth about $80 million is the follow-up act.

The aircraft went through the multiday process of descending from the rover, unfurling its solar panels and powering itself up to prepare for what was supposed to be its first launch on Sunday. However two days before the big event, its rotors failed.

“During a high-speed spin test of the rotors on Friday, the command sequence controlling the test ended early due to a ‘watchdog’ timer expiration,” according to NASA. The timer was designed to stop the operation if it detects issues.

The glitch occurred when the copter tried switching from preflight mode to flight mode. NASA said a software update is necessary to address the issue. The agency now has to develop, test and upload new software onto flight controllers. Then it has to reboot Ingenuity to move forward with its mission.

The software trouble postponed what is supposed to be only a brief flight. The plan was for Ingenuity to take off, hover for about 30 seconds, then safely land in place. It’s an easy accomplishment for drones on Earth, but a challenging feat on the Red Planet, currently more than 100 million miles away.

Mars’s atmosphere is thinner than Earth’s by a ratio of about 100, making liftoff more difficult. To compensate for this, Ingenuity’s rotors will make about 2,500 revolutions per minute (RPM). That’s far faster than a passenger helicopter on Earth.

Also, since Mars is so far away, joystick control isn’t an option. The entire operation has to happen autonomously. The chopper also contends with temperatures that can drop to minus 130-degrees Fahrenheit, pushing the tiny aircraft’s parts to their limits.

Still, NASA hopes the eventual liftoff will serve as the kickoff of five aerial demonstrations, each designed to be more challenging than the previous one, over about 30 days. Step one was to prove the craft can fly. Step five is to test how far it can go. The goal for Ingenuity is to expand how the space agency can investigate other planets.