NASA engineers have taken its Mars Ingenuity helicopter on a short but important 18-second successful flight to test new capabilities.
The operations team has been working on the new capabilities over the past few weeks. The software upgrade includes hazard avoidance on landing and the use of digital elevation maps.
“Despite the flight’s simple nature, the team is very excited because of what it means for the future of Ingenuity,” the US space agency said in a statement.
NASA tested the new software for the first time on Flight 34.
“Jezero Crater is a rocky place, so safe airfields have been tough to find! Using Ingenuity’s downward-facing navigation camera, this software update adds hazard avoidance on landing,” said Joshua Anderson, Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Operations Lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“While in flight, Ingenuity will identify the safest visible landing site. When preparing to land, Ingenuity will then divert over to this selected site. This capability allows Ingenuity to safely land in rockier terrain than before, providing our pilots with many more potential landing sites,” Anderson added.
The navigation system for the helicopter was created on the assumption that the vehicle would be travelling over flat ground.
“Over long flights, navigation errors caused by rough terrain must be accounted for, requiring the team to select large airfields,” Anderson mentioned.
The team will use results from the flight to start testing the new capabilities, making sure that everything works as expected on the surface of Mars.