Mars helicopter Ingenuity spies Perseverance rover during 54th Red Planet flight (photo, video)

NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity just snapped a photo of its Red Planet partner.

Ingenuity captured an image of NASA's Perseverance rover on Aug. 3, during the 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) chopper's 54th Mars flight. 

Perseverance is nearly out of frame at the top of the photo, which Ingenuity took when it was about 16 feet (5 meters) above the red dirt.

Related: Mars helicopter Ingenuity phones home, breaking 63-day silence

NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter snapped this photo of the Perseverance rover during its 54th flight, on Aug. 3, 2023. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Unlike previous sorties, the Aug. 3 flight wasn't a scouting run to aid Perseverance's science activities. It lasted just 24 seconds, reached a maximum altitude of 16 feet and covered no ground laterally, according to Ingenuity's flight log

The mission team designed this short and simple hop in an attempt to help understand what happened during Ingenuity's previous flight, which was cut short unexpectedly.

That July 22 sortie was supposed to last 136 seconds and feature several complicated maneuvers. However, Ingenuity stayed aloft for just 74 seconds, touching down after something triggered its "flight-contingency program."

"Since the very first flight, we have included a program called 'LAND_NOW' that was designed to put the helicopter on the surface as soon as possible if any one of a few dozen off-nominal scenarios was encountered," Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity team lead emeritus at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, said in a statement

"During Flight 53, we encountered one of these, and the helicopter worked as planned and executed an immediate landing," Tzanetos added.

Flight 53, by the way, was the first hop for Ingenuity in nearly three months. The little drone was ground bound for so long because rough terrain on the floor of Mars' Jezero Crater blocked its communications with Perseverance. (All commands to, and data relays from, Ingenuity are routed through the rover.)  

Tzanetos and his colleagues think they know what triggered LAND_NOW: Imagery from Ingenuity's navigation camera likely got out of sync with its inertial measurement unit, which helps the little chopper determine its position, speed and orientation.

This also happened near the end of Ingenuity's sixth flight, back in May 2021. The mission team soon uploaded a software patch to deal with the issue, but that patch apparently couldn't handle what happened on Flight 53, NASA officials said in the statement.

"While we hoped to never trigger a LAND_NOW, this flight is a valuable case study that will benefit future aircraft operating on other worlds," Tzanetos said. "The team is working to better understand what occurred in Flight 53, and with Flight 54's success, we’re confident that our baby is ready to keep soaring ahead on Mars."

Ingenuity and Perseverance landed together on Jezero's floor in February 2021. The helicopter quickly aced its primary mission, a five-flight technology demonstration. It then moved on to an extended mission, during which it's performing reconnaissance for the Perseverance team.

This isn't the first time that such scouting work has resulted in a photo of Perseverance. For example, the rover made it into frame during Ingenuity's 51st flight, which occurred on April 22. 

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.