NASA's Mars copter survives 'anomaly' during its sixth flight

An image processing error threw the copter off, but it landed safely despite that.

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Richard Lawler
May 28th, 2021
UNSPECIFIED: In this concept illustration provided by NASA, NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter stands on the Red Planet's surface as NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover (partially visible on the left) rolls away. NASA's Perseverance (Mars 2020) rover will store rock and soil samples in sealed tubes on the planet's surface for future missions to retrieve in the area known as Jezero crater on the planet Mars. A key objective for Perseverance's mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet's geology and past climate, paving the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith. (Photo illustration by NASA via Getty Images)
In this concept illustration provided by NASA, NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter stands on the Red Planet's surface as NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover (partially visible on the left) rolls away. NASA via Getty Images

It's been a busy spring for many of us, but hopefully no one has forgotten that NASA is flying a drone on another planet right now. The Ingenuity copter recently completed its sixth flight, however this one ran into a new issue — a timing problem with images received from its navcam gave the helicopter incorrect information about where it was flying.

As the team describes in a blog post, the copter's various other subsystems kept it flying despite the anomaly, as it covered the last 65 meters of its journey and landed safely. Apparently the problem resulted due to a glitch in a single image that removed the craft's ability to read the timing on pictures received from its navigation camera for the rest of the flight. They're working to correct that issue, but it does help prove that Ingenuity is stable enough to fly itself even when something goes wrong.

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