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NASA Is Intentionally Putting Helicopters Into Precarious Nosedives To Test New Mars Mission Hardware

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NASA recently took out the Lander Vision System on a day out for testing. The vision system will aid the Mars 2020 rover to a safe touchdown on the surface of the Red Planet in Feb. 2021.   ( NASA/JPL-Caltech )

NASA has conducted a flight test for the Lander Vision System, the technology that will help the Mars 2020 spacecraft touchdown on the Red Planet.

According to a press release, an Airbus helicopter carried an engineering model of the LVS to Death Valley in California. During a flight, the helicopter carried out a sequence of pre-planned maneuvers that allowed the LVS to analyze the terrain below.

NASA Launching New Mars Rover In 2020

The Airbus helicopter will not be heading to Mars in June 2020, but the LVS will. The LVS is a camera-based navigation system that photographs the environment around it and checks if it matches the onboard maps.

The system is a part of the Terrain-Relative Navigation, which will guide the Mars 2020 rover away from hazards such as boulders and outcroppings. The system will identify and direct the spacecraft into a surface where it will be safe to land.

The rover is scheduled to touch down on Feb. 18, 2021, at Jezero Crater. The landing, however, will not be easy. The terrain, which scientists believe was once the location of a deep ancient lake, is very complex. There are several boulders and sand dunes to avoid.

"The Mars community has long coveted the scientific value of sites such as Jezero Crater, and a previous mission contemplated going there, but the challenges with safely landing were considered prohibitive," explained Ken Farley, a project scientist for Mars 2020 at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in a statement last November. "But what was once out of reach is now conceivable, thanks to the 2020 engineering team and advances in Mars entry, descent and landing technologies."

NASA said that Mars 2020 will be the first in the history of planetary exploration to have the aid of a guidance system to accurately target its point of touchdown during landing.

The recent flight test of the LVS in California is only one in a series that demonstrates the capabilities of the technologies that will be deployed in the upcoming mission to the Red Planet.

Mars 2020 Rover To Look Into Mars' Ancient Past

The primary mission of the Mars 2020 rover is to investigate whether Earth's neighboring planet once had conditions that would allow life to thrive. After it has safely arrived at its destination, the rover will collect samples of rocks and soil, then place them in storage for subsequent missions to retrieve and return to Earth.

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