NASA Announces It is Sending a Helicopter to Mars in 2020

NASA Announces It is Sending a Helicopter to Mars in 2020

The views from a helicopter flying across Mars will also provide Nasa with a stellar public relations tool as it seeks global support for sending humans to the planet in the 2030s or later.

In what appears to be a new tradition of sending pioneering technology demonstrations on its high-profile interplanetary missions, the agency has just unveiled its plans to extend the payload of the Mars 2020 mission and send a helicopter to the Red Planet. "The altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is about 40,000 feet (12,100 meters)", said Mimi Aung, Mars Helicopter project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It has a fuselage that's about the size of a softball, solar cells to charge its lithium-ion batteries and a heating mechanism to keep it warm through Martian nights that can get far colder than 100 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Once they land, the rover will drop off its stowaway and continue to relay commands from the ground. Controllers from Earth will deliver commands to the helicopter to take its first autonomous flight after its batteries are charged and tests are conducted.

A successful test could open the door to using helicopters as scouts on future missions, surveying terrain that might be hard for rovers to navigate and even accessing locations that are unreachable via ground travel.

Nasa is working toward a future when humans will walk on the surface of Mars.

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The helicopter will be brought to Mars attached to the belly pan of the Mars 2020 rover.

The Mars Helicopter will bear no resemblance to the ones that hover nearly constantly in the skies above Los Angeles and tracking vehicle chases.

The helicopter is meant to show the viability and usefulness of aircraft on Mars, NASA explained, together with potential roles because of low-flying scout or to attain areas inaccessible out of the floor. The helicopters blades will rotate at up to 3,000 revolutions per minute, 10 times the rate of a terrestrial helicopter.

For months, mission planners and scientists have been debating whether it'd be worth flying the 4-pound rotorcraft for a 30-day test campaign.

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It is specifically created to fly in the atmosphere of Red Planet which is 100 times thinner than Earth's.

"The real challenge is that the Martian atmosphere is very thin-about 1 percent of Earth's atmosphere-which means that it's not going to look like your typical drone in your backyard", Farley said. If it fails, it will not impact the Mars 2020 mission. But if it does work, helicopters could have a future as low-flying scouts and aerial vehicles to access locations not reachable by ground travel.

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

According to Bridenstine, the success of the "marscopter" may enable more ambitious missions in the future.

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