NASA's next Mars rover mission to carry tiny helicopter

NASA's next Mars rover mission to carry tiny helicopter

NASA has been sending drones to Mars in the form of rovers for decades now with the expressed objective of exploring the red planet and collecting samples.

The Mars Helicopter is considered a high-risk, high-reward project, according to NASA: If the helicopter fails, it won't affect the rest of the Mars 2020 rover's mission, but if it succeeds, the agency will have a powerful new tool to survey the planet and access now unreachable locations. First of all, the atmosphere is only one percent the density of Earth's.

Once landed, the autonomous flying rover will undergo a 30-day test cycle to understand the viability of flying a heavier-than-air craft across the Martian terrain.

The craft weighs less than 4 pounds, has a fuselage about the size of a softball and twin, counter-rotating blades that will spin at nearly 3,000 rpm - a necessity in the thin Martian atmosphere. According to Mimi Aung, the Helicopter Project Manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, they do not have an autopilot because Earth will be several light minutes away, it is impossible to joystick the mission in real time.


NASA considers the mission "a high-risk, high-reward project" and if it fails, it doesn't impact the rest of the rover's mission. Twin counter-rotating blades will spin at nearly 3,000 rpm, created to counteract Mars' thin atmosphere. "The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers", Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in the statement. On its first flight, the helicopter will make a short vertical climb to 10 feet (three meters), where it will hover for about 30 seconds.

It seems like the obvious answer to explore Mars, but sending a helicopter out there is an incredible, but possibly feasible, challenge. If this little helicopter works as intended, it will set the stage for future, more complex rotorcrafts created to act as scouts that can explore and map regions of Mars where scientists can't even dream to send a rover. If it does not work, the Mars 2020 mission will not be impacted. It will do so attached to the belly pan of the Mars 2020 rover. The new Mars Helicopter will serve as a low-flying scout and could pave a way for similar missions that might provide access to hard-to-reach regions on Martian surface.

The Mars 2020 is expected to in July 2020 and to reach Mars in February 2021.

To deliver soil samples from the surface of the red planet, developing a complex chain of engineering solutions. NASA's Launch Services Program, based at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch management. "We already have great views of Mars from the surface as well as from orbit".

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