First Interplanetary Travel: Helicopter on Mars
Science & Tech / /
As part of the U.S. space agency's 2020 mission, NASA will send a small helicopter to Mars, and that will be first such an aircraft used in another world. Its blades will spin at almost 3,000 rpm, which is 10 times faster than the helicopters on Earth.
As NASA reported, the specially designed remote-controlled Mars Helicopter weighs around four pounds, has twin counter-rotating blades and is the size of a softball.
"The altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is about 40,000 feet. 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," said Mimi Aung, the Mars Helicopter project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The helicopter contains built-in capabilities such as solar cells to charge its batteries and a heating mechanism to keep it warm, needed to operate properly at the Red Planet. But before it can fly at Mars it is essential to get there first. For that purpose there will be the car-sized Mars 2020 rover to which the helicopter will be attached.
"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. Instead, we have an autonomous capability that will be able to receive and interpret commands from the ground, and then fly the mission on its own," Aung adds.
After placing the helicopter on the ground, the rover will relay commands from a safe distance. As batteries will be charged and tests will be conducted, controllers on Earth will command the Mars Helicopter to take its first autonomous flight.
The test period will include 5 flights in 30 days, starting with a short vertical flights to hover for about 30 seconds at an altitude of 10 feet, progressing to hundred yards distanced flights with duration of up to 90 seconds.
The Mars 2020 rover mission is scheduled for July 2020 in Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and is expected to reach Mars in February 2021. The rover is designed to carry out geological studies and ascertain the habitability of the Martian environment, with potential roles as a low-flying scout or to reach linaccessible ocations.