Research

Tiny Mars helicopter could make first aircraft launch from another planet

Tiny Mars helicopter could make first aircraft launch from another planet

USA space agency NASA said on Friday it will send a small helicopter to Mars as part of its 2020 mission to place a next-generation rover on the Martian surface, marking the first time such an aircraft will be used on another world.

"Exploring the Red Planet with NASA's Mars Helicopter exemplifies a successful marriage of science and technology innovation and is a unique opportunity to advance Mars exploration for the future", said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA.

Attached to the Mars Rover, the chopper will be dropped at a suitable place from where it will try to take off. Controllers from Earth will deliver commands to the helicopter to take its first autonomous flight after its batteries are charged and tests are conducted.

NASA has been working out ways to make the Helicopter as light as possible. 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. Final design for the aircraft puts it at 1.8 kg on Earth and is about the size of a football. Equipped with solar cells to power it over a 30-day test campaign, its blades would spin three times quicker than a normal helicopter, or around 3,000 revolutions a minute so as to handle the planet's atmosphere, which is 100 times thinner than Earth's.

NASA officials explained the rotorcraft will hit the Red Earth's surface connected with the car-sized rover. There were budget and technical feasibility hurdles that kept the space agency from making the decision, but the robot will be officially be going to Mars. NASA hopes the helicopter will ascend to around 10 feet and hover there for around 30 seconds on its first flight. "We already have great views of Mars from the surface as well as from orbit".

The Mars 2020 rover mission is scheduled to launch in July 2020 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and reach Mars in February 2021.

The helicopter is meant to show the viability and usefulness of aircraft on Mars, NASA explained, together with potential roles because of low-flying scout or to attain areas inaccessible out of the floor.

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