January 23, 2019

NASA Will Send The First Helicopter On Mars

15 May 2018, 07:18 | Dale Webster

NASA will send tiny helicopter to Mars

NASA plans autonomous helicopters to land on Mars in 2020

Once it's there, the rover will drive to a suitable take-off site, detach the helicopter, and drive away.

NASA announced that it will send the first ever Mars Helicopter along with the Mars 2020 rover.

"NASA has a proud history of firsts". As such, NASA is thinking of sending a flying drone to the red planet that will provide scientists an aerial view of the planet. 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.

U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, echoed Bridenstine's appreciation of the impact of American firsts on the future of exploration and discovery.

The helicopter is being developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. The Mars Helicopter weighs just under four pounds, with a fuselage about as big as a softball.

Animation of Mars helicopter and Mars 2020 rover.

The helicopter also contains built-in capabilities needed for operation at Mars, including solar cells to charge its lithium-ion batteries, and a heating mechanism to keep it warm through the cold Martian nights. These included incorporating the weak atmosphere of Mars as a factor in how the tiny copter would fly. It will get to Mars by attaching to the belly pan of the Mars 2020 rover.

According to Mimi Aung, the Mars Helicopter project manager at JPL, in a recent statement, "The altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is about 40,000 feet. To make it fly at that low atmospheric density, we had to scrutinize everything, make it as light as possible while being as strong and powerful as it can possibly be". NASA will relay general commands to the rover, which communicates with the helicopter. NASA has tested the helicopter prototype in a Mars-like atmosphere, proving that it will be able to take flight on the red 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.

Since it still takes several minutes for the signal between Earth and Mars to reach the drone even when traveling at light speed, it's only natural to make the flying vehicle partially autonomous. If this initial test works well, the craft is supposed to make four more flights over a 30-day test period, with each flight getting progressively longer and more complex than the previous. It will also climb to 10 feet (3 m) and hover for about 30 seconds.

NASA describes the Mars Helicopter as a high-risk, high-reward project.

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

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

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