NASA's Mars Helicopter: Small, Autonomous Rotorcraft To Fly On Red Planet

NASA's Mars Helicopter a small autonomous rotorcraft which will travel with the agency's Mars 2020 rover currently scheduled to launch in July 2020 to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet

Dubbed the Mars Helicopter, the rotorcraft is hitching a ride to the Red Planet as part of NASA's Mars 2020 rover mission.

"We are ready to take the next big step in exploring the red planet - to bring soil samples from Mars to Earth" - write to NASA. The BBC said this could be the first test of "heavier-than-air aircraft on another planet".

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. Its fuselage is about the size of a softball, and its twin, counter-rotating blades will bite into the thin Martian atmosphere at nearly 3,000 rpm - about 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth. 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.

Once the Mars rover makes it to a site that it suitable for takeoff, the Mars helicopter will detach and scientists at NASA will be able to send out commands that will allow the chopper to perform initial tests before taking to the skies.

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The altitude record for helicopters on Earth is 40,000 feet; above that, the air isn't dense enough to hold copters aloft. The twin blades of the helicopter will rotate ten times faster than the helicopters on Earth.

"After the Wright Brothers proved 117 years ago that powered, sustained, and controlled flight was possible here on Earth, another group of American pioneers may prove the same can be done on another world", NASA's Science Mission Directorate associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said. 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. It will do so attached to the belly pan of the Mars 2020 rover.

The Mars Helicopter is a technology demonstration that will travel to the Red Planet with the Mars 2020 rover.

The Mars 2020 Rover mission includes a drill-equipped lander that can drill into the Martian crust to look for "signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past" and "searching for signs of past microbial life".

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Now they are working on a small electric helicopter that they plan to fly on Mars during the 2020 mission.

The helicopter will attempt up to five flights, going farther and operating for longer each time - up to a few hundred meters and 90 seconds, officials said.

"Though the agency already has an orbiter lurking in space, it is way high up".

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