back to article NASA writes software update for Ingenuity helicopter to enable first Mars flight

NASA will upload a "minor modification" of flight control software to the Ingenuity helicopter ahead of its first attempt at powered flight on Mars, and says the process of doing so means it can’t say when attempts to send craft into Red skies will take place. The ‘copter was scheduled to attempt flight on April 11th, but NASA …

  1. Tessier-Ashpool

    Here’s hoping it doesn’t get bricked

    An iPhone over-the-air bricking event is one thing; an autonomous extraterrestrial robotic helicopter bricking event is quite another!

    1. karlkarl Silver badge

      Re: Here’s hoping it doesn’t get bricked

      Don't worry. Locked down crippleware is only for us plebs. NASA uses hardware and software that generally has a high chance of recoverability and re-usability.

      Just look at Voyager 2 for an example of a device with a long lifespan. It will outlive any smartphone made today.

  2. sbt Silver badge
    Alert

    Be careful, folks!

    If your watchdog keeps expiring before the system initialises to the point where it starts resetting the timer, you'll be stuck in a boot loop. Had the same problem on my BlueTooth CD changer impersonator.

  3. Andre Carneiro

    But but. but... didn't they do any sort of testing before departure?

    What is it that change en route? Is this software update to mitigate a mechanical fault? Or is it to compensate for unexpected parameters in the martian atmosphere?

    1. SW10
      Joke

      They have new, more colourful icons

      1. Kane Silver badge
        Joke

        "They have new, more colourful icons"

        And rounded corners.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Definitively a possible maybe, maybe not.

    3. Stumpy

      Surely you should be aware that modern software development practices preclude testing before releasing as 'Early Access', then fixing forwards as soon as issues are detected in the Production environment.

      * I would add a Joke icon, but I'm no longer certain that this counts as humo(u)r, sarcasm, wit, or reality these days.

    4. Pete 2 Silver badge

      upon reflection

      > didn't they do any sort of testing before departure?

      I expect they scrupulously followed all the instructions in the Hubble Mirror Testing Manual

    5. MOH

      They forgot that bytes are 11 bits on Mars, adjusting to compensate.

      1. RegGuy1 Silver badge

        What? Bits of a helicopter?

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Boffin

      Yes they did extensive testing because they're not stupid. I don't know what changed, but it's worth mentioning that it's not practically possible to replicate the conditions on Mars on Earth. You can (and they did) test with the correct atmospheric pressure, and you can (and they did) test with simulated reduced gravity (and lowered atmospheric pressure), by essentially attaching a string to the top of the helicopter and pulling up on it to reduce its effective weight (this is one of the ways they showed that it would actually fly, there are videos of this). But what you can't practically do is test it in an actual reduced gravity. That means that things like the deflection in the rotors due to gravity (which will be small as they're stiff) can't be really modelled on Earth. So there's every reason to believe that they tested as much as they could (and, frankly, your questioning that is more than a bit insulting to them).

      [When I say 'can't practically': you can impractically by lifting the hypobaric chamber where the tests take place high above the ground and then accelerating it downwards at about 6.1ms-2 during the test. That's not very practical given that hypobaric chambers of the sort they use tend to be pretty big and very heavy.]

      1. Andre Carneiro

        I don't believe that questioning is insulting to anyone, and I'm sorry that you feel that way. I have nothing but the deepest appreciation for what that team is doing, it truly is the thing of Sci-Fi, and only a complete moron would think they had done no testing. That is not what I was implying.

        I was genuinely wondering what it was that they couldn't do here. In that respect your answer was very thorough and helpful, despite your sanctimonious attitude.

        So thank you, and please allow me to add another upvote to your post.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        You Space Nerds really need to lighten up.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nothing there...

    Even they admit it, and they spent bazillions doing it.

    1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

      Re: Nothing there...

      The bit is getting old, mate.

      Studying the "nothing but rocks" of Mars gives us an insight into processes that took place on earth but are no longer observable due to differences in atmospheric composition. There are geological structures on Mars that are impossible to observe here, because here they would be chemically destroyed by the ongoing presence of liquid water, whereas there they can sit out in the open without damage. By studying that, we can gain a better understanding of the history of our own planet's history.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Graham Dawson - Re: Nothing there...

        History like when a smaller planet cools down, core freezes and magnetic field is lost with major impact on atmosphere and life in general ? To me it looks more like a future not history.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: @Graham Dawson - Nothing there...

          Because our planet is tectonically active and very wet, a crater from a meteor strike fades away.

          On the moon, for example, such craters stay as they were created for millions of years as only the solar wind affects them. So if you can find a million year old event that hasn't been disturbed you can study million year old history.

        2. Graham Dawson Silver badge

          Re: @Graham Dawson - Nothing there...

          It can be our future in the same way that buried bones are the future of us all, but we still study the bones of our ancestors to understand history. Mars is a planetary fossil. It preserves things from then by being relatively static in the meantime.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Nothing there...

        That's even on the fringe of geology. You must have the full set of elbow reinforcement on your jumper.

        1. Graham Dawson Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: Nothing there...

          "This person disagrees with me, I'm going to try and disparage his position by portraying him as a stuffy old fart."

          Grow up.

        2. John H Woods Silver badge

          "the full set of elbow reinforcement on your jumper"

          ... yet, weirdly, the actual evidence of history is that the bulk, if not the entirety, of human progress comes more from such people, than those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

  5. Adelio Silver badge

    Boeing

    Is this more sotware written (and not tested) by boeing?

    /JOKE

    I have great respect for the NASA people, these things happen and I know they can fix it. Now if Boeing actually did write the software!

  6. Scott Broukell

    Look, it's important that they get things right, because all of the airspace around Gatwick will be closed down during the test flight (probably).

  7. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Applying patches .... please wait

    > NASA will upload a "minor modification" of flight control software to the Ingenuity helicopter ahead of its first attempt at powered flight on Mars

    Typical new toy experience. You get it out of the box, switch it on and the first thing it does is to download a software update.

    I expect this project to stop as soon as Ingenuity reports back that the product registration failed due to an incorrect timezone being entered.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Applying patches .... please wait

      Is it init 5 that reboots? or is that the one that shuts down and removes power?

      Always getting that wrong.

      1. Adair Silver badge

        Re: Applying patches .... please wait

        Obviously systemd will be handling all mission critical calls. Any process attempting action independent of systemd authorisation and supervision will be terminated.

        Everything is under control.

        Do not worry.

        1. TVU

          Re: Applying patches .... please wait

          "Obviously systemd will be handling all mission critical calls"

          Who knows, they might be using Devuan to avoid using Poettering's excrescence?

          That said, I really would like to know what Linux variety they are using even if it's a specially commissioned NASA one.

          1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

            Re: Applying patches .... please wait

            I'd lay good odds they're using something like QNX rather than Linux. If it is Linux, it'll be an absolutely bare-bones kernel with a custom set of core utils. Or maybe they're using busybox. That'd be a laugh.

            1. werdsmith Silver badge

              Re: Applying patches .... please wait

              Don’t take that bet.

              It’s Linux and they are using a framework called F Prime (F’)

              You can play with it yourself because they open sourced it: https://nasa.github.io/fprime

              1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

                Re: Applying patches .... please wait

                Oh no, guess I'm out a can of coke.

                That's neat, though. Thanks.

    2. yogidude

      Re: Applying patches .... please wait

      Of course Mars has timezones, but at 1d 0h 37m for a Martian day, they won't be using Martian timezones on ingenuity. Besides where is UTC on Mars?

      1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

        Re: Applying patches .... please wait

        Obviously it's wherever Beagle 2 crash-landed.

        1. David Hicklin

          Re: Applying patches .... please wait

          "Obviously it's wherever Beagle 2 crash-landed."

          I thought they had concluded that Beagle 2 actually made it down but the solar panels failed to deploy ?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Applying patches .... please wait

        "Besides where is UTC on Mars?"

        Now you have me wondering if Mars has an equivalent of a prime meridian. Off to Google go I.

        1. yogidude

          Re: Applying patches .... please wait

          https://www.giss.nasa.gov/tools/mars24/help/notes.html

  8. stuartnz

    Adaptive learning

    Many are asking "didn't they test the software before sending it?". Since NASA is not Boeing, I'm going to assume they did, but it also seems reasonable to assume that conditions on the ground 15 light minutes away may not be replicable with 100% exactitude. If the slight hiccup was caused by a local variable that could not have been replicated Earthside, then rewriting the software to factor in the new data would seem to me to be evidence of sensible engineering, not the opposite

    1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

      Re: Adaptive learning

      I would assume that the atmosphere is at the extreme of the expected density/pressure and the watchdog is set too tightly. When they "vacuum" chamber flight tested it (yes they did) the unit ran to speed in the time expected because their simulated atmosphere was a bit less dense than that actually encountered. Could even be that it's picking up a tiny bit more surface dust (whatever that's called on Mars, is it regolith?) than expected which could increase local air density significantly around the device and thus slow spin up ...

      Guesses? Yes. But I did predict the thumper/borer/moley thing wouldn't work before it was launched so I have form ... :-)

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Adaptive learning

      I think people asking about testing the software before flight are being tongue in cheek.

      But of course they may have fresh information sent back by the new Mars car thingy and have taken that into account. Doing OTA update to a little quadcopter on Mars which is a sub-vehicle is pretty amazing and always makes me feel good to know people can do this stuff.

  9. Lord Kipper III

    I'm sure that if NASA can resist the temptation to 'improve' the printing on the 'copter that it'll only take a couple of patches to get right.

  10. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    WTF breaks ITs MRDA Cover

    The agency’s post also reminds us all that Ingenuity is a technology demonstration, and therefore not a part of the mission expected to produce stellar results.

    However, .... notwithstanding that humble caveat ..... we are pleased to announce some almighty unexpectedly good and great news ...... would be a monumentally nice tale to hear from 15 light-minutes away. :-)

    If you can't master pilot a craft for flight and performance on Mars, you're condemned to wander and wonder lonely as a cloud on Earth, raining on everyones' parades there.

    And that would be much more SNAFUBAR than WTF.

    1. Steve K Silver badge

      Re: WTF breaks ITs MRDA Cover

      If it tips over, could you pop out and put it back on its skids?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: WTF breaks ITs MRDA Cover

        Steve k,

        I upvoted you ..... BUT 'amanfromMars 1' is 'from' mars and therefore may not be there now !!!

        (Unless due to lockdown restrictions being reduced he is back visiting Mum/Dad/Friends etc) :)

      2. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: WTF breaks ITs MRDA Cover

        If it tips over, could you pop out and put it back on its skids?

        Maybe if there was some kind of lunar rover nearby with a robotic arm, it might be possible.

        1. Steve K Silver badge

          Re: WTF breaks ITs MRDA Cover

          They're saving the use of the arm for the 6th and final (unscheduled) flight when the battery is flat and they use it as a frisbee!

          1. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: WTF breaks ITs MRDA Cover

            In fact. It would be some frisbee throw from a Lunar rover. Of course I meant Mars Rover.

            Been studying Lunar rovers today and they are on my mind.

  11. Cuddles Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Expected results

    "therefore not a part of the mission expected to produce stellar results"

    If they want Stellar results, they may have sent it in the wrong direction.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So in layman's terms, they downloaded CCleaner and they're modifying what services run at startup. Got it!

  13. HildyJ Silver badge
    Pint

    Untestable. But still go; eventually; hopefully

    With two controllers and four rotors in two pairs plus Mars and Sol, they wouldn't have had time to test all possible factors and still make the launch window (which won't come around again for years).

    Thanks to their testing what they did, Ingenuity is, in the words of the Pythons, is "not dead yet" and has not "joined the bleedin' choir invisible".

    Admittedly, it will take longer but I still have hope and a fridge for the boffins' pints.

    On a lighter note, as Mike Tyson said: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth".

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