Nasa’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter is stuck and urgently needs a software update

Nasa’s Ingenuity helicopter is still stuck on the surface of Mars as it waits for an urgent software update, the space agency has said.

Ingenuity was supposed to have taken off on a brief trip from the Martian surface in recent days, in what would have been the first powered flight on another planet.

But as engineers checked over its hardware, they found a problem with the helicopter’s rotors. That led them to postpone the test launch, to ensure that the small helicopter would be safe to fly.

Since then, they have been working on a way to solve the issue and proceed with the test mission.

The most “robust” way of dealing with the issue is to give the helicopter a software update, the space agency said. That will “modify the process by which the two flight controllers boot up, allowing the hardware and software to safely transition to the flight state”, it said in an announcement.

Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which runs the Ingenuity mission, has been testing that software update in the time since. While the change to the code itself is fairly simple, ensuring that it will run safely and then sending it up to Ingenuity will take “some time”, Nasa said.

“A detailed timeline for rescheduling the high-speed spin-up test and first flight is still in process,” Nasa said in a statement, noting that it will first have to check over the software, load it into the helicopter itself, and then boot Ingenuity up so that it is running the new update.

“Our best estimate of a targeted flight date is fluid right now, but we are working toward achieving these milestones and will set a flight date next week,” Nasa said.

The helicopter is still healthy on the Martian surface, with its power, communications and heating technology working as they should. Perseverance, the rover that carried Ingenuity to the surface, is continuing to work as normal and is preparing to test its own instruments, Nasa said.

Ingenuity’s flight is only seen as a test of the technology, rather than as scientific research. Nasa has repeatedly noted that the development of the helicopter was done with a “high-risk, high-reward” approach, and that there are significant risks inherent in attempting to carry such equipment to a distant planet and then fly through its very thin atmosphere.

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