Nasa will send helicopter to Mars to test otherworldly flight

Carlton Robbins
May 12, 2018

The space agency announced Friday that the solar-powered helicopter, which weighs about four pounds, would deploy from a car-sized rover to fly through the thin Martian atmosphere, according to Reuters. NASA in 2020 will send to Mars a small helicopter that will be based on the Mars Rover of the next generation. The views from a helicopter flying across Mars will also provide Nasa with a stellar public relations tool as it seeks worldwide support for sending humans to the planet in the 2030s or later.

"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 in Washington, D.C., said in a statement released by the agency. With this in mind, NASA is looking at ways to literally fly over those obstacles using miniature helicopters.

The remote-controlled Mars Helicopter, created to take flight in the thin Martian atmosphere with twin counter-rotating blades, weighs about 1.8 kilograms, with a fuselage the size of a softball, NASA said. The helicopter will have twin, counter-rotating blades which will power through the thin Martian atmosphere at nearly 3,000 rpm - about 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth.

It will also feature numerous built-in capabilities such as solar cells for charging the batteries and a heater. That high blade rotation is important to get the helicopter airborne because of the low atmospheric density on Mars - when the drone's on the ground, it'll already be at an Earth-equivalent altitude of 100,000 feet.

The helicopter will be brought to Mars attached to the belly pan of the Mars 2020 rover. The rover then will be driven away from the helicopter to a safe distance from which it will relay commands.

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After its batteries are charged and tests are performed, controllers on Earth will command the helicopter to take its first autonomous flight.

Because Earth will be several light minutes away, "there is no way to joystick this mission in real time", Aung said.

The development of the Mar's helicopter began in the year 2013.

Mars 2020 is scheduled now to launch sometime in July 2020 with a landing slated for February 2021. It will also climb to 10 feet (3 m) and hover for about 30 seconds. "We are working very hard for efficiencies and spending 30 days working on a technology demonstration that does not further those goals directly, from the science point of view, is a tradeoff that has to be made".

Its mission will be to take five test flights after it lands with the rover in February 2021. The rover is created to carry out geological reports also to ascertain the habitability of this Martian environment, NASA explained.

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