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Mars helicopter Ingenuity scouts rocky ridge for Perseverance rover

A ridgeline on Mars in imagery from NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter, which is aiming to assist the Perseverance rover with future activities. The image was captured April 23, 2022, during the 27th flight of Ingenuity.
A ridgeline on Mars in imagery from NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter, which is aiming to assist the Perseverance rover with future activities. The image was captured April 23, 2022, during the 27th flight of Ingenuity. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

As NASA's Martian helicopter recovers from a communications glitch, data from a past flight is showing a Red Planet ridge in high definition.

The Ingenuity helicopter captured the rocky outcrop, nicknamed "Fortun Ridge" after a parish in Norway, as a part of its scouting mission for the Perseverance life-seeking rover. Ingenuity imaged the ridgeline on April 23, during its 27th flight on Mars.

"Previous images suggest tilted layers of rock in this area of Mars are uncommon, unlike on Earth, where plate tectonics and earthquakes cause tilting," officials with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which manages the mission, said (opens in new tab) of the Ingenuity images on May 3.

Related: 1 year later, Ingenuity helicopter still going strong on Mars

Scientists plan to compare these fresh images from Mars with another "angled ridgeline" nicknamed Artuby, found in the South Séítah region of Jezero Crater that both Perseverance and Ingenuity are exploring.

"Comparing Ingenuity's shots of the two angled ridgelines may help team scientists better understand the history of the crater floor and, possibly, the forces that were at play in this part of Jezero Crater billions of years ago," JPL representatives wrote.

Ingenuity recently experienced a communications glitch that team members have blamed on dust in the atmosphere. JPL reestablished contact with the miniature Mars chopper on May 5 after Ingenuity missed a scheduled call-in two days before, the agency reported May 6.

Initial analysis suggests high levels of dust in the atmosphere, combined with low ambient temperatures on Mars, rendered the helicopter temporarily unable to communicate with its rover base station, which relays information to Earth.

"The dust diminishes the amount of sunlight hitting the solar array, reducing Ingenuity's ability to recharge its six lithium-ion batteries," JPL representatives said. Among other issues, the helicopter briefly lost its ability to keep time properly on Mars, hence missing a scheduled check-in with Perseverance.

JPL is changing how Ingenuity charges its battery, to help preserve power. The helicopter is operating far beyond its initial flight plan of five sorties, and engineers are assessing how to keep it working in the Martian winter even though its commercially manufactured parts are not optimized to deal with deep cold.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.