After rover, NASA to fly helicopter on Mars

Jo Lloyd
May 12, 2018

NASA hopes to launch the prototype to Mars with the agency's 2020 rover, which is created to hunt for signs of past life on the red planet. Once it reaches the Red Planet, it will be tested to demonstrate the travel viability above the surface of the Mars. Yes, when the administration launches its next rover to the red planet; it will have a small helicopter along for the ride.

NASA's next Mars mission will have a helicopter onboard.

The Mars Helicopter's development began in 2013 at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California. Known simply as "The Mars Helicopter", the device weighs less than four pounds (1.8 kilograms), and its main body section, or fuselage, is about the size of a softball. Engineers built the copter's twin, counter-rotating blades to "bite into the thin Martian atmosphere at nearly 3,000 rpm - about 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth", said a NASA statement.

Solar cells will charge the helicopter's lithium-ion batteries, and a heating mechanism should keep it from freezing in the cold Martian nights.

"The altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is about 40,000 feet [12,000 meters]", MiMi Aung, Mars Helicopter project manager at JPL, said in the statement. The Martian atmosphere is quite thin - just about 1 percent of Earth's - so flying in such low air density is a challenge.

The helicopter is supposed to be used to achieve points on the surface of Mars, where you will not be able to get the Rover.

The launch team on earth will be able to send commands to the helicopter via the rocket - but it is too far away from them to control it directly. Controllers from Earth will deliver commands to the helicopter to take its first autonomous flight after its batteries are charged and tests are conducted.

That would be a boon to any future missions to take samples on Mars and return them to Earth for analysis. The mission is scheduled to launch in July 2020 to study the implications of using "heavier-than-air vehicles" on the Red Planet. NASA hopes the helicopter will ascend to around 10 feet and hover there for around 30 seconds on its first flight.

"The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers", said Zurbuchen.

Both projects are considered "high-risk, high-reward" technology demonstrations, meaning that neither of the two missions will be impacted if the CubeSats and the "marscopter" fail. It's expected to reach the planet on February 2021.

The rover has six-wheels and is engineered to search for the habitable environments on the Martian surface.

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