NASA Is Sending A Helicopter To Mars. That Is Not A Typo

Posted May 12, 2018

In a statement issued late May 11, the space agency said it will include the Mars Helicopter on the Mars 2020 rover mission, where it will perform a series of test flights over the course of a month.

NASA is planning to send a tiny autonomous helicopter to Mars on its next rover mission to the red planet.

The 'helicopter, which is actually a small unmanned rotorcraft's debut will mark the first time a "heavier-than-air vehicle" is flown on the red planet, according to The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's website, Reuters reported.

The Mars Helicopter is being envisioned as a major advancement for future exploration of the planet, providing a new way of exploring areas of the Mars surface that are not easily accessible by land. "The Mars Helicopter holds much promise for our future science, discovery, and exploration missions to Mars".

The helicopter has been in development since 2013, and has been considered as a potential candidate to launch to Mars, but it's finally received official confirmation that it will ride in the "belly panel" of Mars 2020 until the rover touches down.

A team of expert designers spent more than four years shrinking a working helicopter to just 1.8kg (4lbs) or roughly the size of a softball.

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Under development at JPL since August 2013, the Mars Helicopter uses electrically-driven counter-rotating blades specially created to handle the thin Martian air thanks to their wide span and rotation of 3,000 rpm, which is 10 times faster than their Earth counterparts.

The helicopter contains solar cells to charge its lithium-ion batteries and a heating mechanism to keep it warm during frigid nights. That high blade rotation is important to get the helicopter airborne because of the low atmospheric density on Mars - when the drone's on the ground, it'll already be at an Earth-equivalent altitude of 100,000 feet.

"I am not an advocate for the helicopter and I don't believe the Mars 2020 project has been an advocate for the helicopter", he added.

Sometime after landing on Mars, the rover will place the helicopter on the ground and drive a safe distance away. Controllers from Earth will deliver commands to the helicopter to take its first autonomous flight after its batteries are charged and tests are conducted.

The video below shows environmental chamber tests of the Mars Helicopter. 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. The spacecraft will certainly after that come down on Mars in February of 2021. "We already have great views of Mars from the surface as well as from orbit".