Ingenuity helicopter on Mars
The Ingenuity helicopter on the Martian surface. Courtesy NASA/JPL

NASA officials said Saturday they’re targeting early Monday morning for the historic first flight of a small helicopter in the cold, thin atmosphere of Mars.

The 4-pound helicopter named Ingenuity is scheduled to take off at approximately 12:30 a.m. Pacific time. A public livestream will begin later at 3:15 a.m. as the helicopter team prepares to receive data after the flight at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

Ingenuity was designed and built at JPL and will be controlled by a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor running special software. It was set to make its historic first flight on April 11, but the mission was delayed due to a problem that occurred during a test spin of its rotors.

“During the high-speed spin test, the sequence ended early during the transition from ‘preflight’ to ‘flight’ mode,” mission managers tweeted. “The helicopter is safe & healthy. The team is diagnosing the issue.”

On April 12, the helicopter management team “identified a software solution” for the problem, according to NASA.

“Over the weekend, the team considered and tested multiple potential solutions to this issue, concluding that minor modification and reinstallation of Ingenuity’s flight control software is the most robust path forward,” according to a NASA blog post. “This software update will modify the process by which the two flight controllers boot up, allowing the hardware and software to safely transition to the flight state.”

The first flight of the helicopter will be a short one. It is expected to rise to a height of about 10 feet, hover for 30 seconds, and then return to the planet’s surface.

Ingenuity has no scientific instrumentation aboard. It is strictly a demonstration mission to determine the feasibility of flight in the atmosphere of another planet.

The helicopter was carried to Mars attached to the belly of the Perseverance rover, which dropped it onto the surface and moved away.

City News Service contributed to this article.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.