NASA Announces It is Sending a Helicopter to Mars in 2020

Enlarge Image This illustration shows what the Mars Helicopter might look like as it readies for takeoff.                  NASA

NASA said the blades of the small helicopter, which has a softball-sized fuselage, would maintain an RPM of almost 3,000, about 10 times that of helicopters on Earth. No aircraft has ever taken off from the surface of another planet.

The remote-controlled Mars Helicopter is created to take flight in the thin Martian atmosphere with twin counter-rotating blades.

The idea for the Mars Helicopter began in 2013 at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory when researchers began to experiment with designs. On Mars, however, the atmosphere at the surface is comparable to the Earth's atmosphere at 100,000 feet.

If Mars Helicopter works, it will constitute another space first for NASA, the first flight on another world. Yes, when the administration launches its next rover to the red planet; it will have a small helicopter along for the ride.

In 2012, NASA had launched, Curiosity, a car-sized rover to explore the Gale crater on Mars. "The Mars Helicopter holds much guarantee for our future scientific research, exploration, as well as expedition objectives to Mars".

The small, lightweight Mars Helicopter will demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet.




"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 as powerful as it can possibly be", Aung adds.

The helicopter consists of solarcells to charge its lithium-ion batteries and also a heating mechanism to keep it warm throughout frigid evenings. On Mars, it will remove itself from the rover, and will remain at a safe distance away from it.

Mars is about 20 light minutes away from Earth.

The helicopter is to make five short flights over 30 days. "Instead, we have an autonomous capability that will be able to receive and interpret commands from the ground, and then fly the mission on its own", she said.

Even if the aerial project flops on arrival, it won't hurt the main Mars 2020 rover mission, which is scheduled for launch in the summer of that year to land in February 2021. It will also climb to 10 feet (3 m) and hover for about 30 seconds.

If the mission proves successful, helicopters will be used in future missions to planets to access locations not reachable by ground travel.

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