Published: Sat, May 12, 2018
Sci-tech | By Lila Blake

A Helicopter on Mars? NASA wants to try

A Helicopter on Mars? NASA wants to try

Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said the mission provided "a unique opportunity to advance Mars exploration for the future".

NASA's Mars Helicopter, a small, autonomous rotorcraft, which will travel with the agency's Mars 2020 rover, now scheduled to launch in July 2020, to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet, is shown in this artist rendition from NASA/JPL in Pasadena, California, U.S. May 11, 2018.

The craft weighs in at little under four pounds, and its fuselage is about the size of a softball. During the flight demonstrations, the helicopter's twin, counter-rotating blades will cut through the Martian atmosphere at nearly 3,000 rpm-about 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth.


It will also feature numerous built-in capabilities such as solar cells for charging the batteries and a heater.

After placing the helicopter on the ground, the rover will be directed to drive to a safe distance to relay commands. "If it does work, helicopters may have a real future as low-flying scouts and aerial vehicles to access locations not reachable by ground travel", NASA said in its statement.

A successful test could open the door to using helicopters as scouts on future missions, surveying terrain that might be hard for rovers to navigate and even accessing locations that are unreachable via ground travel.


NASA's Mars 2020 will launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in July 2020 and is expected to reach the Red Planet by February 2021.

However, its small dimensions will come in handy during its trip to the Red Planet, since the "marscopter" is set to get there attached to the belly pan of the Mars 2020 rover. The atmosphere of Mars is only one percent that of Earth, so when our helicopter is on the Martian surface, it's already at the Earth equivalent of 100,000 feet up. It is specifically created to fly in the atmosphere of Mars, which is 100 times thinner than Earth's. It has twin rotors that will spin at about 3,000 rotations per minute, which is 10 times faster than Earth helicopters. Plans are being laid for a 30-day flight test, with five flights going incrementally further each time, up to a few hundred yards (meters). At a meeting of the National Academies' Space Studies Board May 3, Ken Farley, project scientist for Mars 2020, said he and others on the mission had concerns about flying that technology demonstration.

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


The Mars Helicopter is considered a high-risk, high-reward project, according to NASA: If the helicopter fails, it won't affect the rest of the Mars 2020 rover's mission, but if it succeeds, the agency will have a powerful new tool to survey the planet and access now unreachable locations.

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