With Mars In Sight [VIDEO] having departed for the Red Planet for a late November landing, NASA is preparing for the Mars 2020 rover, an enhanced version of the Mars Curiosity that is now rolling about the Martian surface. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine [VIDEO] announced on Twitter that the Mars 2020 would have another enhancement.
"NASA has a proud history of firsts", Bridenstine said in a statement May 11. After that, however, the helicopter will be on its own, flying autonomously.
The helicopter will be deployed from the belly pan of the Mars 2020 rover and is considered critical to future space exploration missions. According to the agency, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, has been working on the "marscopter" project since August 2013.
Tipping the scales at a little under four pounds (1.8 kilograms), the Mars Helicopter is quite small - its fuselage is no bigger than a softball, NASA pointed out. "Its fuselage is about the size of a softball, and its twin, counter-rotating blades will bite into the thin Martian atmosphere at nearly 3,000 rpm - about 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth", says NASA.
"The idea of a helicopter flying in the sky of another planet is exciting".
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The Mar's helicopter carries twin blades, which whirls about ten times the blades of the aircraft on the Earth's surface.
BBC notes that existing vehicles on Mars have been wheeled ones bound on the planet's surface, which is prone to running into obstacles. The rover then will be driven away from the helicopter to a safe distance from which it will relay commands. NASA hopes the helicopter will ascend to around 10 feet and hover there for around 30 seconds on its first flight.
"We're very excited about this and the potential it has for opening up a whole new paradigm for how to explore Mars", said David Lavery, the program executive for solar system exploration at NASA headquarters. At a meeting of the National Academies' Space Studies Board May 3, Ken Farley, project scientist for Mars 2020, said he and others on the mission had concerns about flying that technology demonstration.
That would be a boon to any future missions to take samples on Mars and return them to Earth for analysis. The launch will take place at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The rover will conduct geological assessments of its landing site on Mars, determine the habitability of the environment, search for signs of ancient Martian life, and assess natural resources and hazards for future human explorers.
He added, though, that Mars 2020 has worked to accommodate the helicopter, and was not concerned about any technical risk to the mission from it.
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