Tiny Mars helicopter could make first aircraft launch from another planet
12 May, 2018, 20:53 | Author: Carmen Reese
Named simply the Mars Helicopter, this miniature unmanned aircraft that resembles a drone began its development in August 2013 at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
The small, autonomous aircraft will be blasted into space with the U.S. Space Agency's MarsRover in July 2020, a spokesman said.
"A remote-controlled helicopter to Mars Helicopter, created to fly in the rarefied atmosphere of the red planet, weighs 1.8 kg and the size of a small ball".
Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said the mission provided "a unique opportunity to advance Mars exploration for the future".
NASA said on Friday it will send a small helicopter to Mars as part of the USA space agency's 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.
Mars Helicopter weighs about 1.8 kilograms and has a cubical fuselage similar in size to a softball.
The helicopter's twin blades will whirl at about 10 times the rate of a helicopter's blades on Earth - at 3,000 rpm - to stay aloft in Mars' thin atmosphere. Once there, it will use solar cells to charge its batteries and operate a built-in heater to combat frigid nighttime temperatures.
It is specifically created to fly in the atmosphere of Red Planet which is 100 times thinner than Earth's.
Top reach the planet, the helicopter will be attached to the "belly pan" of the Mars 2020 rover.
BBC notes that existing vehicles on Mars have been wheeled ones bound on the planet's surface, which is prone to running into obstacles. The rover will then drive 50 to 100 metres away - close enough to stay in radio contact, far enough to not be endangered by any mishaps. Controllers from Earth will deliver commands to the helicopter to take its first autonomous flight after its batteries are charged and tests are conducted. As a technology demonstration, the Mars Helicopter is considered a high-risk and a high-reward project.
"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 pointed out.
The "marscopter" will be one of the components of the Mars survey mission scheduled to blast off in July 2020, the USA space agency announced on Friday.
NASA sees Mars Helicopter as demonstrating the ability of such vehicles to serve as scouts for future rover missions. Indeed, future Mars settlements could be constructed within the caverns, protected from the harsh conditions of the Martian surface. "With the added dimension of a bird's-eye view from a 'marscopter, ' we can only imagine what future missions will achieve". The launch will take place at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The rover is created to carry out geological studies and ascertain the habitability of the Martian environment, NASA said.
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