NASA has announced that its Mars 2020 rover mission will include a small, autonomous helicopter for surveying the red planet from high above the ground.
It also has solar cells to charge its lithium-ion batteries, and a heating mechanism so it can endure the cold Martian temperatures after dark.
The Mars Helicopter is considered a high-risk, high-reward project, according to NASA: If the helicopter fails, it won't affect the rest of the Mars 2020 rover's mission, but if it succeeds, the agency will have a powerful new tool to survey the planet and access now unreachable locations. Its counter-rotating blades will revolve at 3,000 RPM, about ten times the speed of a helicopter flying over Earth, made necessary by the thin, Martian atmosphere.
The remote-controlled Mars Helicopter, created to take flight in the thin Martian atmosphere with twin counter-rotating blades, weighs about four pounds (1.8 kilograms), with a fuselage the size of a softball, NASA said.
After landing several miniature dune buggies on Mars to cruise around the surface of the planet, NASA has decided it wants a birds-eye view next time.
"The altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is about 40,000 feet (12,200 meters)". Its counter-rotating blades will spin at nearly 3,000 rpm, about 10 times faster than a similar craft here on Earth. Given that Planet is until now far from Mars, it will certainly take numerous mins to send out the helicopter regulates.
Testing whether "heavier than air vehicles" will work on Mars, NASA is looking to add to its long list of groundbreaking achievements.
If the helicopter arrives safely to Mars and it is fully functional, it will showcase the potential of using different types of vehicles in space.
"To make it fly at that low atmospheric density, we had to scrutinize everything, make it as light as possible while being as strong and as powerful as it can possibly be", she added. Then it will take its very first autonomous flight in Mars and make history. Once on Mars, the rover will deploy it on a suitable surface and drive away where it will have to unpack itself and attempt a flight.
"Exploring the Red Planet with NASA's Mars Helicopter exemplifies a successful marriage of science and technology innovation and is a unique opportunity to advance Mars exploration for the future", said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA.
The Mars Helicopter will be attached to the rover when it leaves Earth. The mission is now scheduled to launch in July 2020.
The rover has six-wheels and is engineered to search for the habitable environments on the Martian surface.