Science

NASA is sending an autonomous helicopter to Mars in 2020

NASA is sending an autonomous helicopter to Mars in 2020”

NASA announced May 11 that it will fly a small helicopter as a technology demonstration on its next Mars rover, despite concerns from some on the project that it could be a distraction. Its blades will spin at nearly 3,000 rpm, roughly 10 times the rate employed by helicopters on Earth.

"The idea of a helicopter flying the skies of another planet is thrilling", he said.

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

Once the rover is on the planet's surface, a suitable location will be found to deploy the helicopter down from the vehicle and place it onto the ground.

That would be a boon to any future missions to take samples on Mars and return them to Earth for analysis.

(1.8-kg) Mars Helicopter will be a second major technology demonstration conducted during the Mars 2020 mission, which is scheduled for launch in July 2020 and a February 2021 landing.

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"The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator at NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, DC.

Mars has only 38 percent of Earth's gravity, but its atmosphere is vanishingly thin compared to Earth's, so the biggest challenge was to design a vehicle that is both light and powerful enough, according to Mimi Aung, the Mars Helicopter project manager at JPL. After its batteries are charged and a myriad of tests are performed, controllers on Earth will command the Mars Helicopter to take its first autonomous flight into history. "We have an autonomous capability that will be able to receive and interpret commands from the ground, and then fly the mission on its own", Aung said.

The helicopter will have a relatively short mission, about 30 days in total.

The helicopter's first flight will see it climb 10 feet (3 meters) into the Martian air, where it will attempt to hover for 30 seconds.

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.

We have rovers on Mars' surface, and orbiters like the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter floating around the planet, but we don't have anything flying around the surface of Mars right now. The rover is created to carry out geological studies and ascertain the habitability of the Martian environment, NASA said.

The helicopter looks like "a medium-size cubic tissue box,"according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena, California, which designed it".



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