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NASA to Send Helicopter to Mars in 2020 Mission

15 May 2018, 07:18 | Kevin Scott

NASA will send tiny helicopter to Mars

NASA plans autonomous helicopters to land on Mars in 2020

If this little helicopter works as intended, it will set the stage for future, more complex rotorcrafts created to act as scouts that can explore and map regions of Mars where scientists can't even dream to send a rover.

The Mars Helicopter's development began in 2013 at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California. It took four years of testing and tweaking to make the first prototype of the Mars-bound helicopter.

The new Rover, which the Americans hope to build for 1.5 years and run on the Red planet in the summer of 2020, will collect samples of soil and stones, tightly pack them into capsules and leave on the surface along the way.

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's Associate Administrator for science, said that the ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers, and the views from a helicopter flying across Mars will also provide NASA with a stellar public relations tool as it seeks global support for sending humans to the planet in the 2030s or later. These included incorporating the weak atmosphere of Mars as a factor in how the tiny copter would fly. It will do so attached to the belly pan of the Mars 2020 rover. In contrast, helicopters on Earth typically operate at around 300 rpm. Now, for the first time, NASA wants to send a helicopter to Mars, which is meant to fly in very rarefied Martian atmosphere. Therefore, designers "had to scrutinize everything, make it as light as possible while being as strong and as powerful as it can possibly be". After the wheeled vehicle is on the planet's surface, NASA will find a suitable location to deploy the helicopter.

Flights will be programed because the distance to Mars precludes real-time commands from Earth.

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Mars is several light-minutes away, so it's impossible to control the helicopter's flight path or landing in real time. "Instead, we have an autonomous capability that will be able to receive and interpret commands from the ground, and then fly the mission on its own". Subsequent flights will reach "up to a few hundred meters, and longer durations as long as 90 seconds". On its first flight, the helicopter will make a short vertical climb to 10 feet (three meters), where it will hover for about 30 seconds.

A recent statement suggests that NASA will soon launch a Mars helicopter in order to get a better aerial view of the planet. The space agency plans to do it as part of its next Mars mission.

"The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers", said Zurbuchen. "With the added dimension of a bird's-eye view from a 'marscopter, ' we can only imagine what future missions will achieve".

The craft will launch onboard the United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in July 2020 and is expected to arrive on Mars in February 2021.



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