NASA sends a helicopter to Mars

Theresa Obrien
May 12, 2018

Nasa is working toward a future when humans will walk on the surface of Mars. NASA introduced today that it will certainly be sending out a tiny independent flying chopper- appropriately called the Mars Helicopter- with the upcoming Mars 2020 wanderer.

"NASA has a proud history of firsts", NASA's administrator, Jim Bridenstine, said in a statement.

The helicopter is meant to demonstrate the viability and usefulness of such aircraft on Mars, NASA said, with potential roles as a low-flying scout or to reach locations inaccessible from the ground. As a technology demonstration, the Mars Helicopter is considered a high-risk and a high-reward project.

The helicopter is the result of four years of testing and redesigning a standard helicopter to shrink it down to an object that weighs a little less than four pounds.

To rise into the Mars' thin atmosphere, the helicopter's two counter-rotating blades will turn at almost 3,000 revolutions per minute, or more than 10 times as fast as a helicopter's blades on Earth, NASA says.

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.

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"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.

However, its small dimensions will come in handy during its trip to the Red Planet, since the "marscopter" is set to get there attached to the belly pan of the Mars 2020 rover. After the rover lands, the helicopter will be placed on the ground.

Pilots on Earth will control the next-generation aircraft for small test flights at first, and then gradually expand the range and duration as they determine its potential to scout and study previously inaccessible locations. The rocket, which will accomplish the mission, is named as United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket.

If the tests work, NASA will be closer to exploring the Red Planet in a different way. On its first flight, the helicopter will make a short vertical climb to 10 feet (3 meters), where it will hover for about 30 seconds. Indeed, future Mars settlements could be constructed within the caverns, protected from the harsh conditions of the Martian surface. If it does not work, the Mars 2020 mission will not be impacted.

The aircraft is expected to reach the Red Planet in February 2021, more than half a year after its July 2020 launch. "This is a process that has taken place at NASA Headquarters to decide whether the helicopter should be flown".

The rover has six-wheels and is engineered to search for the habitable environments on the Martian surface.

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