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A technical failure keeps the Ingenuity helicopter on the ground in the fourth flight attempt to Mars

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NASA’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter missed its fourth scheduled flight Thursday, and the space agency blamed a software bug and promised to try again the next day. “The helicopter is safe and in good health,” said a statement, adding that the helicopter was unable to enter “flight mode.” The team plans to attempt the flight one more time on Friday at 8.16 p.m. IST (10:46 a.m. ET) with data expected at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory around three hours later.

The Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, is a technology demonstration to test powered flights in another world for the first time. He’s traveling in the Perseverance vehicle. Image credit: NASA.

The software problem is believed to be the same one that delayed Ingenuity’s maiden voyage, the first powered flight on another planet. Initially scheduled for April 11, the historic feat occurred on April 19.

The reason was a failure associated with the aircraft’s “watchdog timer”, which alerts Ingenuity to potential problems and stops its processes if it thinks it has detected an error.

Engineers made a coding adjustment that allowed Ingenuity to overcome the problem and transition to flight mode correctly, but they estimated that there was a 15 percent chance that it would not work on each flight attempt.

“Today’s delay is in line with that expectation and does not impede future flights,” NASA said.

Since arriving on Mars in February under the belly of the Perseverance rover, the 1.8 kilogram helicopter has made three successful flights.

The last one, which took place on Sunday, saw him move faster and further than ever, with a top speed of 6.6 feet (two meters) per second. It covered 50 meters away.

Ingenuity flights are challenging due to conditions very different from those on Earth; The most important of these is a rarefied atmosphere that is less than one percent the density of ours and means that it has to turn its rotors at 2,400 revolutions per minute.

The Ingenuity technology demonstration will end in early May to allow the Perseverance rover to return to its main task: looking for signs of past microbial life on Mars.

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