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!
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 …
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.
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.
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.]
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.
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.
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.
> 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.
"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.
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
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 ... :-)
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.
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.
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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