NASA Is Sending A Helicopter To Mars. That Is Not A Typo

NASA Is Sending A Helicopter To Mars. That Is Not A Typo

If the marscopter works, it will open up a new way of looking at the Red Planet by giving the rover and NASA scientists back on Earth an eye in the sky.

U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing NASA's budget, played up the flight demonstration's inspirational value.

"I am not an advocate for the helicopter and I don't believe the Mars 2020 project has been an advocate for the helicopter", he added.

Because Mars' atmospheric density is only 1 percent of Earth's, NASA says the drone's twin, counter-rotating blades would have to turn at almost 3,000 rpm - about 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth.

"After the Wright Brothers proved 117 years ago that powered, sustained, and controlled flight was possible here on Earth, another group of American pioneers may prove the same can be done on another world", he said.

Not only will an aircraft be able to move around faster than rovers, it will also be able to reach areas they can not get to.

The Mars Helicopter has been in development since August 2013 and contains solar cells to charge its lithium-ion batteries along with a heating mechanism, as temperatures during the Martian night regularly reach -67 F (-55 C), and can go even lower.

The experimental, softball-sized drone would be the first airborne vehicle to fly around within Mars' atmosphere other than the landers that have delivered other, ground-based rovers.

"The altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is about 40,000 feet".

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Mars' atmosphere is 100 times thinner than the Earth's atmosphere, which could make flying a helicopter very hard. If successful, it would be the first time humanity has deployed a helicopter on another planet.

"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 Aung.

Instead, the helicopter will "fly the mission on its own".

Plans are being laid for a 30-day flight test, with 5 flights going incrementally further each time, up to a few hundred yards.

On its first flight, the helicopter will make a short vertical climb to 10 feet and hover for about 30 sec.

NASA views the copter as a "high-risk, high-reward technology demonstration", it said.

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

"The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers", Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for science, said.

Existing Mars vehicles have been wheeled devices, which have to navigate around many obstacles in their path and have been confined to fairly large open spaces on the surface of Mars. The mission is now scheduled to launch in July 2020. The rover is created to carry out geological studies and ascertain the habitability of the Martian environment, NASA said.

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