Technical glitch before the 4th Ingenuity helicopter flight on Mars

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The Ingenuity helicopter’s fourth flight to Mars scheduled for Thursday did not take place because the craft did not take off, said NASA, which said it was analyzing the data and planning a new attempt on Friday. .

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“The data received (…) Thursday morning show that the helicopter did not achieve its fourth flight as planned,” said the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of the US space agency in a statement. It “did not go into flight mode, which is required for the flight to take place,” she explained.

“The helicopter is in good health” and this delay “does not prevent future flights”, however reassured NASA. A new attempt will be made on Friday at 10:46 a.m. on the US East Coast – but the first data will not arrive on Earth until around 1:30 p.m.

The helicopter was to try to fly for longer (117 seconds) than on its third flight on Sunday (80 seconds), by covering a greater distance, faster (3.5 meters per second instead of 2m / scd).

This fourth test must therefore begin to push Ingenuity to its limits after three successes, the first of which on April 19, with a hover which was the first of a motorized vehicle on another planet.

“Recall that the helicopter team on Mars has already fulfilled the objectives associated with this demonstration technology,” tweeted Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA, shortly after the announcement of the aborted test. “They have proven that it is possible to fly on Mars!”

A major challenge, because the Martian air has a density equivalent to only 1% that of the Earth’s atmosphere.

This is why NASA had to design an ultralight machine (1.8 kg), which actually looks more like a large drone, and whose blades turn much faster than those of a standard helicopter.

Ingenuity arrived on the Red Planet on February 18 aboard the Perseverance rover, from which he then unhooked.

The Ingenuity window for this fourth flight, and possibly a fifth, is reduced. After a month devoted to this experiment, which will end at the end of May, NASA announced that it would devote itself to the main objective of Perseverance for the years to come: to search for traces of ancient life on Mars.