Helicopter to fly on NASA's next Mars Rover mission

NASA's Mars Helicopter a small autonomous rotorcraft which will travel with the agency's Mars 2020 rover currently scheduled to launch in July 2020 to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet

Helicopter to fly on NASA's next Mars Rover mission

In the next mission to Mars small Rover will select the capsule, tightly pack them in the cargo container mini-rocket, which starts from the lander to the orbit of the red planet.

The Mars 2020 is expected to in July 2020 and to reach Mars in February 2021.

However, reality is not that simple as unlike Earth's atmosphere, the Martian atmosphere is 100 times thinner which poses enormous challenges for a helicopter. The BBC said this could be the first test of "heavier-than-air aircraft on another planet".

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Knowing what the Mars helicopter is capable of is all well and good, but we won't get an accurate idea of how the craft functions until we see it deployed on the Red Planet itself - a goal which NASA will likely achieve sooner rather than later. NASA's therefore designed a machine with blades that "will bite into the thin Martian atmosphere at nearly 3,000 rpm - about 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth", weighs just 1.8kg and has a " fuselage ... about the size of a softball".

"The altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is about 40,000 feet", said Mimi Aung, Mars Helicopter project manager at JPL. The twin blades of the helicopter will rotate ten times faster than the helicopters on Earth. "After the Wright Brothers proved 117 years ago that powered, sustained, and controlled flight was possible here on Earth, another group of American pioneers may prove the same can be done on another world". The autonomous helicopter needs it because of the low atmospheric density on Mars. It will do so attached to the belly pan of the Mars 2020 rover. If it does not work, the Mars 2020 mission will not be impacted. If all goes according to plan, the craft will make four more flights over the course of a 30-day test campaign, each progressively longer and more complex than the first.

"If we were to fly the helicopter as a tech demonstration on something like Mars 2020, we would envision a very small number of flights to prove the aerodynamic and handling characteristics, and the concept of operations, and that would be the end of the demonstration", Watzin said.

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But if it is successful, it will be the first step in using helicopters as aerial scouts for rovers.

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

But if this endeavor truly takes off (sorry) it could add a valuable and revealing new dimension to space exploration missions down the road. The car-size rover is equipped with a drill for collecting rock samples, instruments for conducting chemical analyses and seeking potentially habitable environments, an experiment to test the viability of producing oxygen from the planet's carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere, and an array of sensors.

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