Published: Sat, May 12, 2018
Science | By Celia Watts

NASA announces 'Mars Helicopter' will be taken to red planet in 2020

NASA announces 'Mars Helicopter' will be taken to red planet in 2020

"NASA has a proud history of firsts", Bridenstine said in a statement May 11. Now, it wants to prove that it can sustainably fly around the planet's thin atmosphere at low altitude - with a tiny helicopter. The mission of the helicopter is to demonstrate the viability and usefulness of such aircraft on Mars.

The Martian helicopter will travel with the mission of the Rover of Mars 2020, announced the space agency. One of the rover's tasks will be to collect soil and rock samples for a later mission that will pick them up and return them to Earth. At some point, the helicopter will certainly aim to remove, as well as it'll need to do the trip totally by itself, also. At a meeting of the National Academies' Space Studies Board May 3, Ken Farley, project scientist for Mars 2020, said he and others on the mission had concerns about flying that technology demonstration.

The aerial vehicle will come equipped with solar panels that will recharge its lithium-ion batteries and a heating unit to allow it to survive the Martian nights. Its primary payload will be a camera.

The atmosphere of Mars is only 1% that of Earth, so when the helicopter is on the Martian surface, it is already at the Earth equivalent of 100,000 feet up. The rover then will be driven away from the helicopter to a safe distance from which it will relay commands. The flight will last only about two minutes until the battery charge runs out.

Opportunity landed on Mars in 2004 and has outlived its original plan for a 90-day mission.

"One possibility that's being considered is [the helicopter] can be used as a scouting tool to identify interesting terrain to send the rover to", Farley said.

The rotor craft weighs in at only 1.8 kilograms, and it will fly to Mars attached to the underbelly of the rover.

The Mars 2020 Project at JPL in Pasadena, California, manages rover development for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

"In my opinion, [operating the helicopter] comes right out of the science time", Farley said. "We already have great views of Mars from the surface as well as from orbit".

Because the Mars Helicopter is a ride-along experiment and not central to the Mars 2020 mission, NASA sees this as a high-risk, high-reward project that could pay off high scientific dividends for future missions, but will not adversely affect the present rover mission if it fails. Just like the twin MarCO CubeSats now on their way to the Red Planet as part of the historic InSight mission, the "marscopter" is a trailblazer meant to demonstrate that the technology can be used in exploration missions.

Like this: