NASA flying helicopter to Mars using remote control

Cesar Mills
May 13, 2018

Yet the Mars Helicopter will certainly be flying in an environment that's as slim as elevations of 100,000 feet in the world, inning accordance with NASA.

The helicopter is the result of four years of testing and redesigning a standard helicopter to shrink it down to an object that weighs a little less than four pounds. After the rover lands, the helicopter will be placed on the ground. Because Mars is far away from Earth, with radio signals taking at least 20 minutes to cross interplanetary space, the Mars Helicopter will fly autonomously and not via a human operated joy stick as drones on Earth are controlled.

The small, lightweight Mars Helicopter will demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet. An helicopter on Mars, however, poses a special technical challenge.

The Mars 2020 mission, scheduled for launch aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral in July 2020, is expected to reach the red planet in February 2021.

"It's fitting that the U.S. is the first nation in history to fly the first heavier-than-air craft on another world", said Representative John Culberson (Texas). This is meant to demonstrate the viability and usefulness of such aircraft on Mars. On Mars, however, the atmosphere at the surface is comparable to the Earth's atmosphere at 100,000 feet.

Enlarge ImageA Mars Helicopter prototype undergoes some testing on Earth.                  Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser  CNET
Enlarge ImageA Mars Helicopter prototype undergoes some testing on Earth. Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser CNET

When NASA releases its following vagabond to Mars, the auto will certainly have a tiny helicopter along for the flight.

The helicopter also contains built-in capabilities needed for operation at Mars, including solar cells to charge its lithium-ion batteries, and a heating mechanism to keep it warm through the cold Martian nights.

After its batteries are charged and tests are performed, controllers on Earth will command the helicopter to take its first autonomous flight.

Once the copter is ready to go, a 30-day test flight campaign will commence, beginning with a simple hover in place and leading to more extensive reconnaissance missions lasting as long as 90 seconds. But if it does work, helicopters could have a future as low-flying scouts and aerial vehicles to access locations not reachable by ground travel.

In two years, a new U.S. rover is set to visit Mars. "With the added dimension of a bird's-eye view from a 'marscopter, ' we can only imagine what future missions will achieve".

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