The hoax of NASA’s programs to launch its innovative Mars helicopter from Earth again

NASA is preparing to apply a “patch” to the flight computer software of an Ingenuity Mars helicopter to prepare it to fly again after its hibernation. The hotfix, aimed at hacking Ingenuity’s flight computer software, will cause the flight computer to believe that data from a working sensor is coming from another sensor that recently stopped working.

Creativity, which began flying to Mars in April 2021, has been on a low run for the past few months due to the dominance of the Martian winter. During this season, Ingenuity is closed at night to conserve energy. However, turning the device off caused its internal temperature to drop overnight to about minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit (-80 degrees Celsius). This increases the risk of damage to electronic components, explains Havard Gripp, principal pilot of the Ingenuity Mars helicopter at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.


As the US space agency team prepared to return the helicopter to service, they discovered that the tilt gauge – vital for measuring direction before the plane took off – was no longer working.

“The inclinometer consists of two accelerometers, the sole purpose of which is to measure gravity prior to rotation and altitude; it uses the direction of perceived gravity to determine how creativity is directed relative to the downward direction,” says Havard Gripp. Finding a new way to configure navigation algorithms before takeoff. »

Fortunately, NASA engineers already predicted that the inclinometer might fail. So they prepared a software patch before landing on Mars, which, if deployed, would allow the onboard flight computer to use other accelerometers housed in the separate inertial measurement unit (IMU) instead of back up.

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This fix allowed the IMU sensors to “pass” the inclinometer, which is in any case sufficient for the instrument to be able to estimate the initial position that must be adopted to make the instrument go off. “Unlike the inclinometer, the IMU is not designed to detect stationary direction, so its estimates of initial position will generally be somewhat less accurate. However, we believe that the initial position estimate based on the IMU is an acceptable dip that will allow the inclinometer to resume flight.”

Software cheat

The patch itself will inject a code into the Ingenuity flight computer program to intercept “unwanted packets” from the malfunctioning sensor and inject packets from the IMU data. That’s not how the flight program should behave, but in this case, that’s to be expected, thanks to a NASA fix.

“The patch inserts a small snippet of code into a program running on the Ingenuity flight computer, intercepts unnecessary packets from the obliquity meter and injects alternate packets generated from the IMU data,” wrote Havard Grip. And to emphasize that “in terms of navigation algorithms, everything will be the same as before, the only difference is that the received inclinometer packets will not actually come from the inclinometer”.

NASA’s next step now is to apply the patch and carry out commissioning activities to ensure that the updated program works as expected. “If all goes well, the team will plan over the next few months to finalize the upside link and implement a program patch, which will be followed by live broadcasting activities to ensure the new program is operating as it should.” Agency.

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Frank Mccarthy

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