NASA loses contact with Ingenuity Mars helicopter during test flight

An illustration depicts the Mars helicopter Ingenuity on Mars. NASA lost contact with the chopper this week during its 72nd flight on the red planet. Image courtesy of NASA

Jan. 20 (UPI) -- NASA says it lost contact with its Ingenuity Mars helicopter during test flight this week and now is uncertain of its condition.

Ingenuity successfully executed its 72nd flight on the surface of the red planet, according to a statement from NASA issued Friday. The flight was meant only to check the helicopter's systems after it made an unexpected landing during the previous flight.

"Data Ingenuity sent to the Perseverance rover (which acts as a relay between the helicopter and Earth) during the flight indicates it successfully climbed to its assigned maximum altitude of 40 feet," the agency said.

On the descent, however, Ingenuity and Perseverance lost communication with each other, leaving the Ingenuity team in the dark as to the helicopter's condition. NASA officials said the team is analyzing available data to try to reestablish contact with the chopper.

Ingenuity and Perseverance touched down on Mars in February 2021. The two are working in tandem, with Perseverance hunting for evidence of past life on the red planet and Ingenuity acting as a scout for the rover.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab said in a post on X that Perseverance is currently out of the line-of-sight with the incommunicado chopper, but the team could drive the rover closer for a visual inspection.

Despite this recent setback, Ingenuity seemed to be cut out for life on Mars. Originally expected to perform just five flights on the planet's harsh surface, the 4-pound chopper has completed more than 70.

NASA also lost contact with the helicopter last summer, so the agency could possibly re-establish communications again.