Mars Ingenuity helicopter's fourth flight postponed

Washington, United States: NASA's Mars Ingenuity helicopter missed its fourth scheduled flight on Thursday, citing a software bug and promising to try again the next day.

"The helicopter is safe and in good health," said a statement, adding the rotorcraft had failed to transition to "flight mode."

The team expects to attempt the flight again on Friday at 10:46 a.m. Eastern Time (1446 GMT), with data scheduled to arrive at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory three hours later.

The software problem is thought to be the same one that prevented Ingenuity's first powered flight on another planet. The historic feat, which was originally scheduled for April 11, took place on April 19.

The cause was a bug in the aircraft's "watchdog timer," which alerts Ingenuity to possible issues and pauses its processes if it suspects a mistake.

Engineers made a coding change that allowed Ingenuity to resolve the issue and correctly switch to flight mode – but they predicted there was a 15% chance it would not work on each flight attempt.

"Today's delay is in line with that expectation and does not prevent future flight," NASA said.

The four-pound (1.8 kilograms) helicopter has flown three times since arriving on Mars in February in the belly of the Perseverance rover.

The most recent, on Sunday, saw it travel faster and further than ever before, reaching a top speed of 6.6 feet (two meters) per second. It covered a distance of 64 feet (50 meters).

The flights of Ingenuity are difficult due to conditions that are significantly different from Earth's, most notably a rarefied atmosphere of less than one percent the density of our own, requiring it to spin its rotors at 2,400 revolutions per minute.

The Ingenuity technology demonstration will conclude in early May, allowing the Perseverance rover to return to its primary mission of searching for evidence of past microbial life on Mars.

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