NASA Is Sending An Helicopter To Mars For The First Time
A Wants To Prove That It Can Sustainably Fly Around Mars At Low Altitude – With A Chopper.
NASA announced Friday it will send the Mars Helicopter to the Red Planet with the previously announced Mars 2020 rover, set to launch in two years from Florida.
The hope is that the tiny helicopter will eventually give scientists another vantage point from which to observe Mars. The helicopter will be mankind’s first attempt to fly a small heavier than aircraft in an atmosphere other than Earth’s.
The chopper will take five test flights after it lands with the rover in February 2021.
A Small Copter At 3000 Revolutions Per Minute
The small copter will be about the size of a softball and will be attached to the rover’s belly pan. After the rover lands, it will place the helicopter on the ground and move away.
To rise into the Mars’ atmosphere, the helicopter’s two counter-rotating blades will turn at 3,000 revolutions per minute, more than 10 times as fast as a helicopter’s blades on Earth.
“The altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is about 40,000 feet. The atmosphere of Mars is only 1% that of Earth, so when our helicopter is on the Martian surface, it’s already at the Earth equivalent of 100,000 feet up,” Mimi Aung, the Mars Helicopter project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a news release.
To See What Lies Beyond
On the first test flight, NASA intends to have the helicopter climb 10 feet into the air and hover for 30 seconds.
NASA hopes to fly the aircraft incrementally father and longer in the four subsequent test flights, with distances up to a few hundred meters and durations as long as 90 seconds.
“The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers,” 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,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s science mission directorate in Washington.
Two other rovers, Curiosity (2004) and Opportunity (2012), continue exploring Mars, sending photos of the surface and searching for signs of past life. Both rovers have found evidence that conditions were once fit for ancient life.
Earlier this month, NASA launched its InSight probe, expected to land near Mars’ equator in Novebmer. It is scheduled to burrow 10 to 16 feet into the planet’s crust, giving scientists new insights into the Mars´ interior.
The Mars 2020 rover will seek for signs of life for two years and will help NASA learn more about how to safely land humans there. It will also allow NASA to hear sounds on the surface for the first time.