NASA plans to send mini-helicopter to Mars

NASA's Mars Helicopter

NASA's Mars HelicopterImage nasa

The Agency notes that during the first helicopter flight on the surface of Mars aircraft will have to stay in the air for at least 30 seconds, while on the three-meter height.

While the helicopter has been deemed a high-risk, high-reward operation, NASA employees say that if it fails, it will not impact the 2020 mission.

The vehicle will weigh at just four pounds and will have a fuselage the size of a softball. The thin air at the surface of Mars is the equivalent of being 100,000 feet above Earth - well beyond the limits of terrestrial helicopters - although the weaker gravity helps. The robot will give scientists a bird's eye view of the surface of the red planet.

"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", MiMi Aung, the Mars Helicopter Project Manager at the agency's Jet Propulsion Lab said.

The helicopter was particularly conceived for use on Mars featuring solar cells to charge its batteries, a heating mechanism for cold Martian nights and counter-rotating blades that function at 3,000 rpm, 10 times faster than helicopters on Earth.

"It's fitting that the USA is the first nation in history to fly the first heavier-than-air craft on another world", said Representative John Culberson (Texas).

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However, its small dimensions will come in handy during its trip to the Red Planet, since the "marscopter" is set to get there attached to the belly pan of the Mars 2020 rover.

The Mars 2020 mission, scheduled for launch aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral in July 2020, is expected to reach the red planet in February 2021.

On Friday NASA officials confirmed that they are planning to fly a light and small helicopter to Mars.

Controllers on Earth will command the Mars Helicopter, which was created to receive and interpret commands from the ground.

The helicopter will be shuttled to Mars on board a rocket arriving in 2020, but once there it is created to be able to take off autonomously on a series of short flights. The full 30-day flight test campaign will include up to five flights of incrementally farther flight distances. "Instead, 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", she said.

In two years, a new United States rover is set to visit Mars.

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