"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's Science Mission Directorate at the agency headquarters in Washington.
A robot helicopter will fly the skies of Mars as part of the 2020 mission, NASA has announced, hoping to replicate the success of the Wright brothers on the red planet. After the rover lands, the helicopter will be placed on the ground. Controllers on the planet will control the helicopter to shoot its initial autonomous airport after its batteries have been charged and evaluations are all ran, NASA explained.
For its trip to Mars, the helicopter will be packed on the underside of the rover.
The Mars Helicopter will bear no resemblance to the ones that hover nearly constantly in the skies above Los Angeles and tracking auto chases. The helicopter is meant to demonstrate the viability and usefulness of such aircraft on Mars, NASA said, with potential roles as a low-flying scout or to reach locations inaccessible from the ground.
The helicopter will attempt up to five flights, going farther and operating for longer each time - up to a few hundred meters and 90 seconds, officials said. In order to take off, the tiny flying robot needs to spin it's two blades ten times faster - 3,000 times per minute - than it would on Earth while carrying batteries and other hardware crafted to be as light as possible.
For months, mission planners and scientists have been debating whether it'd be worth flying the 4-pound rotorcraft for a 30-day test campaign. "The atmosphere of Mars is only one percent that of Earth, so when our helicopter is on the Martian surface, it's already at the Earth equivalent of 100,000 feet up", said Aung.
On its first flight, the helicopter will make a short vertical climb to 10 feet and hover for about 30 sec. 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.
Mars 2020 is slated to launch in July of that year on United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and the mission should arrive at Mars in February 2021. "With the added dimension of a bird's-eye view from a 'marscopter, ' we can only imagine what future missions will achieve".