U.S. space agency NASA is planning to send an autonomous helicopter to Mars as part of its upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission, which is currently scheduled to launch in July 2020. The small flying chopper has been named the Mars Helicopter. The plan is to attach the helicopter to the underside of the Mars 2020 rover.
With the landing of the small, autonomous rotorcraft on the Red Planet, NASA aims to demonstrate the viability and potential of flying heavier-than-air vehicles on the Martian surface, where the atmosphere is 100 times thinner than that of Earth.
“NASA has a proud history of firsts,” Jim Bridenstine, the NASA Administrator, said. “The idea of a helicopter flying the skies of another planet is thrilling. The Mars Helicopter holds much promise for our future science, discovery, and exploration missions to Mars.”
The scientist team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory began working on the Mars Helicopter four years back in 2013. According to NASA officials, the helicopter is just about 4 lbs. (1.8 kilograms), and its body is about the size of a softball. To ensure that the small vehicle never goes out of charge, it will be equipped with solar cells to charge its lithium-ion batteries in the light of the sun and a heating mechanism to endure cold nights on the planets.
The Mars helicopter’s twin blades will rotate around 10 times than a standard helicopter on Earth, at almost 3,000 rpm, in Mars’ thin atmosphere. The autonomous rotorcraft’s 30-day flight test campaign will include up to five flights. The NASA officials have already confirmed that even if the high-risk project does not work, the Mars 2020 mission will not be impacted.
The Mars 2020 rover is scheduled to launch on board an Atlas V rocket, made by the United Launch Alliance, from Cape Canaveral, Florida in July 2020. The spacecraft is expected to land on Mars in February 2021.