Science

Small, Autonomous Rotorcraft To Fly On Red Planet — NASA's Mars Helicopter

Small, Autonomous Rotorcraft To Fly On Red Planet — NASA's Mars Helicopter”

An autonomous Mars Helicopter is set to form part of Nasa's next mission to the red planet, scheduled to launch in July 2020.

A recent statement suggests that NASA will soon launch a Mars helicopter in order to get a better aerial view of the planet.

"So when our helicopter is on the Martian surface, it's already at the Earth equivalent of 100,000 feet up".

"It's fitting that the United States of America is the first nation in history to fly the first heavier-than-air craft on another world", Culberson said.

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.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California started building the 4-pound helicopter which is about as big as a football.

NASA considers the mission "a high-risk, high-reward project" and if it fails, it doesn't impact the rest of the rover's mission. Mars Helicopter will be flying in an atmosphere that's as thin as altitudes of 100,000 feet on Earth, compared to an average helicopter on earth which just flies 40,000 feet high.

Its blades will spin at roughly 10 times the rate employed by choppers on Earth.

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's Associate Administrator for science, said that the ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers, and the views from a helicopter flying across Mars will also provide NASA with a stellar public relations tool as it seeks worldwide support for sending humans to the planet in the 2030s or later. "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 powerful as it can possibly be". Equipped with solar cells to charge up in sunlight, the craft will survive chilling nights on the red planet by means of a heating mechanism. After the rover lands, it will place the helicopter on the ground and move away. The first flight could see the Mars Helicopter fly up to 10 feet and hover there for around 30 seconds.

"We don't have a pilot and Earth will be several light minutes away, so there is no way to joystick this mission in real time", Aung stated while stressing on the importance of autonomy for the demonstration. The new Mars Helicopter will serve as a low-flying scout and could pave a way for similar missions that might provide access to hard-to-reach regions on Martian surface.

"The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers". Scientists will use the instruments aboard the rover to identify and collect samples of rock and soil, encase them in sealed tubes, and leave them on the planet's surface for potential return to Earth on a future Mars mission.

Opportunity landed on Mars in 2004 and has outlived its original plan for a 90-day mission.

But if this endeavor truly takes off (sorry) it could add a valuable and revealing new dimension to space exploration missions down the road.



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