NASA is trying to figure out how to reach its Ingenuity Mars helicopter after losing contact with the craft earlier this week. During its 72nd flight — a “quick pop-up” to an altitude of about 40 feet — NASA says Ingenuity stopped communicating with the Perseverance rover before it was meant to. It went quiet on Thursday, and as of Friday afternoon, NASA still hadn’t heard from it.
Perseverance serves the go-between for all communications to and from the helicopter; Ingenuity sends information to Perseverance, which then passes it on to Earth, and vice versa. According to NASA, the small helicopter completed the ascent as planned, but ceased communications while on its way back down. “The Ingenuity team is analyzing available data and considering next steps to reestablish communications with the helicopter,” NASA said in a status update on Friday. Ingenuity had previously ended a flight earlier than it was supposed to, and Thursday’s jaunt was meant to “check out the helicopter’s systems.”
Ingenuity has been on the red planet since 2021, when it arrived with the Perseverance rover. And it’s far exceeded its mission goals. NASA originally hoped the experimental helicopter would be able to complete a handful of flights. It went on to fly more than 20 times within its first year in operation. The space agency officially extended its mission in 2022, and it’s since executed dozens more more successful flights. Ingenuity is the first aircraft to take flight from the surface of Mars.