The helicopter will be shuttled to Mars on board a rocket arriving in 2020, but once there it is created to be able to take off autonomously on a series of short flights.
The Mars Helicopter - a small, autonomous rotorcraft - will travel with the Mars 2020 rover mission. "The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers", said NASA's Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the science mission directorate.
NASA's next Mars mission will have a helicopter onboard.
The idea was started in August 2013 as a technology development project.
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Mars Helicopter weighs about 1.8 kilograms and has a cubical fuselage similar in size to a softball.
To cope with that, the marscopter's twin counter-rotating blades will spin at nearly 3,000 revolutions per minute (rpm), nearly 10 times the rate of an Earth helicopter. These are powered by lithium-ion batteries charged by solar cells that also help to run heaters to protect the electronics from freezing in the subzero Martian nights.
"The altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is about 40,000 feet (12,200 metres)". It is specifically created to fly in the atmosphere of Mars, which is 100 times thinner than Earth's.
Once the helicopter is placed on Mars, the rover will move to a safe distance and relay commands.
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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 National Aeronautical and Space Administration Center adds a new flavor to its next Mars 2020 rover mission. 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).
Testing whether "heavier than air vehicles" will work on Mars, NASA is looking to add to its long list of groundbreaking achievements.
"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", she pointed out. NASA acknowledges the challenge, saying this is a "high-risk, high-reward project". Indeed, future Mars settlements could be constructed within the caverns, protected from the harsh conditions of the Martian surface.
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According to Bridenstine, the success of the "marscopter" may enable more ambitious missions in the future. The rover is created to carry out geological reports also to ascertain the habitability of this Martian environment, NASA explained. The mission is predicted to reach Mars in February 2021.