The fourth flight of Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s history-making Ingenuity helicopter on Mars “didn’t get off the ground” Thursday, but mission managers said they will try again Friday.
According to JPL, the helicopter is still “safe and healthy.”
“Data indicate the rotorcraft didn’t transition to flight mode, which had been a possible outcome,” according to the agency. “We’ll attempt the fourth flight again on April 30.”
Emboldened by the helicopter’s first three successful flights, mission managers are planning to push the craft’s “performance envelope” during its fourth flight.
The flight from Wright Brothers Field — the name given to the helicopter’s base on Mars — was scheduled to occur at 7:12 a.m. California time Thursday. Data from the flight wasn’t expected back at JPL until roughly three hours later, at 10:21 a.m.
Just before noon, however, JPL announced the flight had not occurred.
“Aim high, and fly, fly again,” the agency posted on Twitter. “The #MarsHelicopter’s ambitious fourth flight didn’t get off the ground, but the team is assessing the data and will aim to try again soon. We’ll keep you posted.”
JPL announced later Thursday that the fourth flight will be attempted again at 7:46 a.m. Friday, California time. The first data from the helicopter is expected to be received at JPL at 10:39 a.m.
“An issue identified earlier this month showed a 15% chance for each time the helicopter attempts to fly that it would encounter a watchdog timer expiration and not transition to flight mode,” according to JPL. “Today’s delay is in line with that expectation and dose not prevent future flights.”
The fourth flight will see Ingenuity climb to a height of 16 feet, then fly south — “flying over rocks, sand ripples, and small impact craters” — for 276 feet. The helicopter’s downward-facing camera will then begin snapping photos every four feet, until it reaches a distance of 436 feet from its starting point. Ingenuity is then programmed to stop, hover and return to Wright Brothers Field.
“To achieve the distance necessary for this scouting flight, we’re going to break our own Mars records set during flight three,” Johnny Lam, Ingenuity’s backup pilot at JPL, said prior to the attempt. “We’re upping the time airborne from 80 seconds to 117, increasing our max airspeed from 2 meters per second to 3.5, and more than doubling our total range.”