Navigation error sent NASA’s Mars helicopter on wild ride

NASA’s tiny Mars helicopter lands safely after a wild, lurching ride due to a navigation timing error

Cape Canaveral, Fla. – A navigation timing error sent NASA’s tiny Mars helicopter on a wild, lurching ride, its first major problem since it took to the skies of Mars last month.

Officials of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said on Thursday that the experimental helicopter named Ingenuity managed to land safely.

The helicopter’s sixth test flight last Saturday at an altitude of 33 feet (10 meters) caused trouble in about a minute. One of the many photographs taken by the on-board camera was not registered in the navigation system, throwing off sequence the entire time and leaving the craft confused about its location.

According to the helicopter’s chief pilot, Howard Grip, Simplicity started bending back and forth by 20 degrees and faced an increase in power consumption.

In an online position update, he wrote, “a built-in system to provide additional margin for stability” came to the rescue. The helicopter landed within 16 feet (5 m) of its intended touchdown site.

In April, two months after landing with NASA’s rover Percerance on Mars, Ingenuity became the first aircraft to operate on another planet.

The 4-pound (1.8-kg) helicopter took its first five flights, each of which was more challenging than the first. NASA was so impressed with the $ 85 million technical demo that it extended its mission by at least a month.

Saturday’s troublesome flight was the first for this bonus period. Engineers have solved the problem for the past several days.


The Associated Press Department of Health and Sciences receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.


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