NASA sends a helicopter to Mars

NASA sends a helicopter to Mars

Top reach the planet, the helicopter will be attached to the "belly pan" of the Mars 2020 rover.

The space agency announced the decision on Friday to add a small helicopter - about 1.8 kilos with a fuselage the size of a softball and blades that span just over a metre, tip to tip - to its Mars 2020 mission, which is to launch in July 2020 and arrive at Mars the following February. The chopper is also light, weighing a little under four pounds (1.8 kilograms). As according to Nasa, it weighs about four pounds (1.8 kilograms), with a fuselage the size of a softball, its blades will spin at nearly 3,000 rpm, roughly 10 times the rate employed by helicopters on Earth.

It will also feature numerous built-in capabilities such as solar cells for charging the batteries and a heater. Once the rover reaches the planet's surface, it will place the helicopter on the ground and move to a safe distance to relay commands; controllers on Earth will direct it to take its first autonomous flight.

"The idea of a helicopter flying the skies of another planet is thrilling", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in the statement.

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).

Is it insane to think we can fly a helicopter on another planet?

Both Bridenstine and Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, highlighted the fact that, if successful, Mars Helicopter will be the first heavier-than-air vehicle to fly on another world.




The helicopter will attempt up to five flights, going farther and operating for longer each time - up to a few hundred meters and 90 seconds, officials said.

But don't let its cute stature fool you; this little fellow packs a lot of power and its twin blades are able to rotate 10 times faster than what we normally see here on Earth, reaching nearly 3,000 revolutions per minute.

The Mars Helicopter is being envisioned as a major advancement for future exploration of the planet, providing a new way of exploring areas of the Mars surface that are not easily accessible by land.

Due to the atmospheric difference between Earth and Mars, the helicopter will be the equivalent of 100,000 feet in the air at home when it is on the ground on Mars.

"The altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is about 40,000 feet". The copter won't be controllable in real time from Earth, due to the light-speed travel time involved.

"The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers", said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency headquarters in Washington.

That would be a boon to any future missions to take samples on Mars and return them to Earth for analysis.

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