CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A navigation timing error sent NASA
's little Mars
helicopter on a wild, lurching ride, the mission's first major hiccup since taking to the skies of Mars last month.
The experimental helicopter, dubbed Ingenuity, successfully landed, according to Jet Propulsion Laboratory officials on Thursday.
The issue arose about a minute into the helicopter's sixth test flight last Saturday at an altitude of 33 feet (10 meters) when one of the numerous pictures taken by an on-board camera failed to register in the navigation system, throwing the entire timing sequence off and confusing the craft about its location.
According to Havard Grip, the helicopter's chief pilot, Ingenuity began tilting back and forth by up to 20 degrees and experienced power consumption spikes. A built-in system to provide extra margin for stability "came to the rescue," he wrote in an online status update. The helicopter landed within 16 feet (5 meters) of its intended landing site.
, two months after landing on Mars with NASA's rover Perseverance, Ingenuity became the first aircraft to perform a powered flight on another planet.
NASA was so impressed with the $85 million tech
demo that it extended its mission by at least a month after the 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) helicopter aced its first five flights, each one more difficult than the last.
Saturday's troubled flight was the first of the bonus
period, and engineers have been working on resolving the issue for several days.