In five decades of exploration of Mars, NASA has sent orbiters, lander and rovers to explore Earth's neighbor. But the Space Agency's next mission will be the first to send a tiny robotic helicopter to another planet
The Mars Helicopter, an autonomous spacecraft with a meter-long rotor and a body the size of a chihuahua, will fly into the abdomen of Mars 2020 Rovers, When It Starts in Two Years, NASA announced Friday. The project will primarily serve as a test of the technology needed to fly a rotorcraft over a world 140 million miles away.
Four years of testing and redesigning to create a helicopter on the Red Planet. Mars atmosphere is so thin that floating only 10 feet above the surface is the equivalent of rising 100,000 feet above the earth.
The height record for helicopters on Earth is 40,000 feet; moreover, the air is not tight enough to keep helicopters in the air.
"In order to fly at this low atmospheric density, we had to study everything, make it as light as possible and be strong and powerful at the same time. That may be possible," said Mimi Aung, Project Director of the Mars helicopter at the Jet NASA's Propulsion Laboratory.
The helicopter is equipped with solar cells to recharge its lithium batteries and an internal heating mechanism to keep it warm, the Martian night, when temperatures can drop to minus 100 degrees Celsius.
It takes between four minutes and for almost half an hour, until the light from Mars flies to Earth, depending on where the planets are in their lanes, this delay eliminates the possibility of operating the helicopter remotely, instead the spacecraft must be able to command to receive from operators on the earth and then execute them independently.
The Mars Helicopter, a small autonomous Rotorcraft will travel with the NASA's Mars 2020 Rover. (NASA / JPL-Caltech)
The Mars 2020 spacecraft is due to land on the Martian surface in February 2021. The Auto Rover is equipped with a drill for collecting rock samples, instruments for performing chemical analyzes and potential search habitable environments, an experiment to test the viability of oxygen production from the planet's carbon dioxide rich atmosphere and a range of sensors.
After landing, the rover will drop its helicopter load and then retreat to a safe distance during rotation
The helicopter's first flight should be short: it will climb 10 feet and float for 30 seconds before landing on the Bottom returns. If everything goes according to plan, the ship will make four more flights during a 30-day test campaign, each longer and more complex than the first.
If the Mars helicopter fails, the entire Mars 2020 mission will not be harmed. But the potential benefits for NASA are exciting; A successful mission could pave the way for future rotorcraft to act as scouts and explore parts of Mars that Rovers can not reach.
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