In an Interplanetary Initially, NASA to Fly a Helicopter on Mars

In an Interplanetary Initially, NASA to Fly a Helicopter on Mars

The small, autonomous aircraft will be blasted into space with the U.S. Space Agency's Mars Rover in July 2020, a spokesman said.

The helicopter is meant to show the viability and usefulness of aircraft on Mars, NASA explained, together with potential roles because of low-flying scout or to attain areas inaccessible out of the floor.

Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said the mission provided "a unique opportunity to advance Mars exploration for the future". The mission of the helicopter is to demonstrate the viability and usefulness of such aircraft on Mars. "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", said Mimi Aung, the project manager of NASA's Mars Helicopter at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a statement.

The craft weighs in at little under four pounds, and its fuselage is about the size of a softball.

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Because the atmosphere on Mars is 100 times thinner than Earth's, the blades will spin at 3,000 revolutions per minute, which is about 10 times faster than the speed of helicopter blades on Earth.

The helicopter will ride to Mars attached to the rover's belly pan, officials said.

After the helicopter is placed on the ground the rover will be directed to drive to a safe distance to relay commands.

Once the Mars Helicopter has landed on the surface of Mars, controllers back on Earth will command it to take its first autonomous flight.

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The full 30-day flight test campaign will include up to five flights of incrementally farther flight distances, up to a few hundred meters, and longer durations as long as 90 seconds, over a period. After the rover lands on Mars in 2021, NASA will use the spacecraft's cameras to scan the ground of the planet, find a suitable flat place to set the tiny helicopter down.

Both projects are considered "high-risk, high-reward" technology demonstrations, meaning that neither of the two missions will be impacted if the CubeSats and the "marscopter" fail.

"We're very excited about this and the potential it has for opening up a whole new paradigm for how to explore Mars", said David Lavery, the program executive for solar system exploration at NASA headquarters.

That would be a boon to any future missions to take samples on Mars and return them to Earth for analysis. The rover is created to carry out geological studies and ascertain the habitability of the Martian environment, NASA said.

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