When the Mars 2020 mission sends a rover to the Red Planet, there will also be a helicopter sent with it to fly around Mars and take photos.
The Mars 2020 Mission
On May 11, NASA announced that a small autonomous rotorcraft will be added to the Mars 2020 mission. The flying vehicle looks like a hybrid of a helicopter and a drone. It will be the first helicopter on another planet.
"NASA has a proud history of firsts," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "The idea of a helicopter flying the skies of another planet is thrilling. The Mars Helicopter holds much promise for our future science, discovery, and exploration missions to Mars."
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. The mission is currently scheduled to launch in July 2020. The vehicle will reach Mars by February 2021.
"After the Wright Brothers proved 117 years ago that powered, sustained, and controlled flight was possible here on Earth, another group of American pioneers may prove the same can be done on another world," said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.
How Did NASA Develop The Technology?
The idea for the Mars Helicopter began in 2013 at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory when researchers began to experiment with designs. After several stages of development, they were able to redesign, test, and create a vehicle that can handle flying on Mars.
Mars's atmosphere is 100 times thinner than the Earth's atmosphere, which could make flying a helicopter very difficult. To sustain a flying vehicle for Mars, researchers had to rapidly increase the speed of the blades. The entire vehicle weighs less than 4 pounds. To survive the cold temperatures, researchers added heating sources.
Another obstacle was powering the vehicle so far away. Researchers added numerous solar cells so that the batteries can be recharged.
What Will The Helicopter Do On Mars?
The Mars Helicopter will be attached to the rover when it leaves Earth. On Mars, it will remove itself from the rover, and will remain at a safe distance away from it. After that, it will begin to take autonomous flights.
Since the human operators on Earth will be several light minutes away from the helicopter, the vehicle will conduct its own missions based on the instructions from the scientists.
The purpose of the Mars Helicopter will be to fly around the Red Planet and to take photographs from a bird's-eye view.