Published: Tue, May 15, 2018
Sci-tech | By Brandy Patterson

NASA plans autonomous helicopters to land on Mars in 2020

NASA plans autonomous helicopters to land on Mars in 2020

The Mars Helicopter will be included in the Mars 2020 Rover mission which was announced on May 11.

The Mars 2020 is expected to in July 2020 and to reach Mars in February 2021. Mars's atmosphere is so thin that hovering just 10 feet above the surface is the equivalent of soaring 100,000 feet above Earth. The BBC said this could be the first test of "heavier-than-air aircraft on another planet".

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. It has twin, counter-rotating blades that will slice the air at almost 3,000 revolutions per minute (rpm), which, according to NASA, is "about 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth".

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But according to Spaceflight Now, it seems that childhood idea might not be as unlikely as we once though as engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have been working for the past four years to design a helicopter that could be a part of the next Martian rover mission in 2020.

JPL Mars Helicopter project manager Mimi Aung said in NASA's statement, "The altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is about 40,000 feet". The twin blades of the helicopter will rotate ten times faster than the helicopters on Earth. "The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers", Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in the statement.

In addition to packing in a huge amount of power into a small and unassuming body, the Mars helicopter is equipped with solar cells that will allow it to charge itself with sunlight as well as a built-in hearing instrument to keep it running seamlessly on cold Martian nights. It will get to Mars by attaching to the belly pan of the Mars 2020 rover.

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The current plan is for the Mars helicopter to perform five flights over a period of around 30 days, with each successive flight increasing the distance up to an eventual length of 90 seconds and several hundred meters. The "Mars Helicopter", as NASA calls it, is a small autonomous rotorcraft that will demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the red planet.

The new Rover, which the Americans hope to build for 1.5 years and run on the Red planet in the summer of 2020, will collect samples of soil and stones, tightly pack them into capsules and leave on the surface along the way. If it does work, helicopters may have a real future as low-flying scouts and aerial vehicles to access locations not reachable by ground travel. "We already have great views of Mars from the surface as well as from orbit". NASA's Launch Services Program, based at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch management.

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