Choppers on Mars?! NASA has announced it will be sending an autonomous helicopter to the red planet. The chopper will be apart of part NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission, which aims to continue development of robotic exploration of Mars.
The idea of putting an operational helicopter on Mars started back in August of 2013 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The groups plans were kept in close secrecy as the concept needed to prove it could actually work.
Researchers had to first figure out how the Martian atmosphere could support flight. The team’s four years of designing, testing and redesigning resulted in a final product weighting under four pounds (1.8 kilograms).
Its fuel tank is about the size of a softball. The propeller on the helicopter will feature twin counter-rotating blades that will push off the thin Martian atmosphere at almost 3,000 rpm – about 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth. The helicopter will also feature solar cells to charge its lithium-ion batteries.
But before the helicopter can fly on Mars it has to get there. The helicopter will be launching attached to a robotic rover. Similar to the Curiosity rover launched back in 2011, the Mars 2020 mission will feature a car-sized rover to help further exploration of the red planet.
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. The helicopter hopes to give researchers an unparalleled aerial view of the Martian planet.
“We already have great views of Mars from the surface as well as from orbit. With the added dimension of a bird’s-eye view from a ‘marscopter,’ we can only imagine what future missions will achieve.”
– Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate