NASA Is Sending a Helicopter to Mars

NASA is planning to send a helicopter to Mars in July of 2020

The small, autonomous aircraft will be blasted into space with the U.S. Space Agency's Mars Rover in July 2020, a spokesman said. With this in mind, NASA is looking at ways to literally fly over those obstacles using miniature helicopters.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted out the announcement Friday just as an upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched to space. "This exciting and visionary achievement will inspire young people all over the United States to become scientists and engineers, paving the way for even greater discoveries in the future", Culberson said. Known simply as "The Mars Helicopter", the device weighs less than four pounds (1.8 kilograms), and its main body section, or fuselage, is about the size of a softball.

What will the Mars Helicopter do?

The primary goal of the Mars 2020 rover is to investigate a to-be-determined ancient environment on Mars that could have hosted past or present-day bacterial life.

"The idea of a helicopter flying in the sky of another planet is exciting".

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BBC notes that existing vehicles on Mars have been wheeled ones bound on the planet's surface, which is prone to running into obstacles. Once there, the chopper needs to find a suitable location, charge its batteries, complete all necessary tests and then, if all goes well, the aircraft will perform its first autonomous flight in history. 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.

"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", she pointed out.

NASA stated it intends that the 30day flight test interval which could include as many as five flights, so starting with a brief vertical jaunt to hover for around 30 seconds at a elevation of 10 feet (3 meters) and progressing to flight distances upto a couple hundred yards and durations up to 90 seconds. As a technology demonstration, the Mars Helicopter is considered a high-risk and a high-reward project. The Mars 2020 rover is on track for a mid-2020 launch date.

"The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers", he said.

"We're very excited about this and the potential it has for opening up a whole new paradigm for how to explore Mars", said David Lavery, the program executive for solar system exploration at NASA headquarters.

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