Science

NASA plans to send a helicopter to Mars

NASA plans to send a helicopter to Mars

NASA announced this afternoon that it plans to launch a tiny, four-pound, autonomous helicopter along with its 2020 rover mission. Mars's atmosphere is so thin that hovering just 10 feet above the surface is the equivalent of soaring 100,000 feet above Earth. "It's fitting that the United States of America is the first nation in history to fly the first heavier-than-air craft on another world", Culberson said. The Mars Helicopter holds much promise for our future science, discovery, and exploration missions to Mars. Twin counter-rotating blades will spin at nearly 3,000 rpm, created to counteract Mars' thin atmosphere. With an atmosphere that is 100 times thinner than what we see here on Earth, the ability to create a Mars helicopter was a massive undertaking - but NASA has been working towards this goal in one capacity or another since 2013, making changes as needed in order to produce a craft that will get the job done.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Engineers have been trying to flawless the weight and shape of the helicopter for it to be able to fly in the thin air of Mars. The twin blades of the helicopter will rotate ten times faster than the helicopters on Earth. It will carry solar cells to charge up in the light of the sun and a heating mechanism to endure cold nights on the Red Planet. The autonomous helicopter needs it because of the low atmospheric density on Mars.

The helicopter will ride to Mars attached to the rover's belly pan, officials said.

The experimental, softball-sized drone would be the first airborne vehicle to fly around within Mars's atmosphere other than the landers that have delivered other, ground-based rovers.




According to Nasa, the full 30-day test campaign will include up to five flights of incrementally longer distances and durations, ranging up to a few hundred meters and as long as 90 seconds.

"We don't have a pilot and Earth will be several light minutes away, so there is no way to joystick this mission in real time", Aung stated while stressing on the importance of autonomy for the upcoming Mars helicopter launch.

But if it is successful, it will be the first step in using helicopters as aerial scouts for rovers. The six-wheeled rover will hunt for signs of habitable environments as well as sites that may have once hosted microbial life, examining the Red Planet with 23 cameras, a microphone and a drill to collect samples. "We already have great views of Mars from the surface as well as from orbit".

"Though the agency already has an orbiter lurking in space, it is way high up". If the program works as NASA expects, the agency would have a whole new way to explore the Martian surface. "With the added dimension of a bird's-eye view from a 'marscopter, ' we can only imagine what future missions will achieve".


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