NASA’s Mars helicopter has a issue. This clever software package trick could take care of it


Impression: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

NASA is planning to “patch” the flight computer software on its Ingenuity Mars helicopter to put together it for flight once again after its winter season hibernation.   

The software program patch, which primarily hacks Ingenuity’s flight laptop computer software, will make the flight laptop or computer believe readings from a single doing the job sensor are coming from an additional sensor that lately stopped operating.  

Ingenuity, which began traveling on Mars in April 2021, has been in a reduced operation method throughout Mars’ winter season. Through this season, Ingenuity has been shut down at night to preserve energy. 

SEE: NASA’s Mars helicopter just took these amazing photos of the rover’s landing gear

Even so, shutting down has meant interior temperatures of the aircraft at evening fall to about minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 80 levels Celsius), increasing the danger of electronic factors getting to be ruined, describes Håvard Grip, Ingenuity Mars Helicopter main pilot at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Whilst Grip’s group was making ready to recommission the helicopter for flight, NASA engineers learned its inclinometer experienced stopped operating. 

The inclinometer is not utilized all through flight, but it is vital for measuring orientation right before takeoff. 

“The inclinometer consists of two accelerometers, whose sole goal is to evaluate gravity prior to spin-up and takeoff the route of the sensed gravity is used to identify how Ingenuity is oriented relative to the downward path,” explains Grip. 

“The inclinometer is not utilised for the duration of the flight itself, but without the need of it we are forced to obtain a new way to initialize the navigation algorithms prior to takeoff.”

Fortunately, NASA engineers predicted the inclinometer could are unsuccessful so they ready a application patch ahead of it landed on Mars that would, if deployed, allow for the onboard flight computer to use other accelerometers housed in the individual inertial measurement device (IMU) as a backup. 

The result of the patch is to enable the IMU’s sensors to “impersonate” the inclinometer adequately sufficient that it can estimate preliminary perspective. 

“Contrary to the inclinometer, the IMU is not reason-constructed for sensing static orientation, so its initial angle estimates will frequently be relatively considerably less correct. However, we imagine an IMU-dependent preliminary perspective estimate will let us to take off safely and securely and consequently gives an appropriate fallback that will allow for Ingenuity to resume traveling.”

SEE: NASA’s Mars lander is operating out of energy. Here’s what happens upcoming

The patch alone inserts code into Ingenuity’s flight laptop software so that it intercepts “rubbish packets” from the damaged sensor and injects packets from IMU facts. It’s not how the flight application really should behave but in this scenario is intended to, many thanks to NASA’s patch. 

“The patch inserts a smaller code snippet into the software package managing on Ingenuity’s flight computer, intercepting incoming garbage packets from the inclinometer and injecting alternative packets created from IMU facts,” writes Grip. 

“To the navigation algorithms, every little thing will glance as before, the only difference remaining that the received inclinometer packets do not really originate from the inclinometer.”

The subsequent stage is to utilize the patch and entire commissioning actions to make certain the current application is working as envisioned. 

“If all goes perfectly, over the next number of sols, the workforce expects to finalize uplinking and implementing the application patch, which will be followed by commissioning actions to make sure the new software package is running as prepared,” NASA mentioned.


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