NASA to test helicopter on Mars

NASA to test helicopter on Mars
Photo: NASA

In 2021 NASA expects to deliver its helicopter to Mars to examine the prospects of using of such devices in extraterrestrial space.

NASA is going to test small autonomous helicopter on Mars. It will be delivered to the Red Planet as a part of “Mars 2020” mission that is scheduled for mid-2020 and is expected to reach Mars in early 2021.

No one has ever used before helicopters or similar aircrafts outside Earth’s atmosphere. And travel to Mars is strewn with many difficulties. In particular, the atmosphere there is much thinner than on Earth. In other words, when the helicopter is at the surface of Mars, it experiences the same conditions as at an altitude of more than 30 km above the Earth. Moreover, the aircraft cannot be controlled from the Earth in view of the fact that it takes several minutes to transmit radio signal.

Development process of the Martian helicopter began as far back as in 2013. If weights nearly 1.8 kg and has two counter-rotating blades rotating at almost 3,000 rpm. Moreover, it is equipped with solar cells to charge its lithium-ion batteries and a heating mechanism to make it “survive” during the cold Martian nights.

On its first flight, the helicopter will make a short vertical climb to 3 meters, where it will hover for about 30 seconds. It is planned that during the 30-days period helicopter will perform up to five flights of incrementally farther flight distances, up to a few hundred meters, and longer durations as long as 90 seconds.

“Mars 2020” mission provides for the delivery of rover to the surface of the Red Planet. It will be engaged in astrobiological research, in particular, will be searching for signs of ancient Martian life. The success or failure of the helicopter will in no way affect this mission. However, in case of success, we will get new opportunities for the aerial spies development, which in turn may reach places inaccessible to rovers.

As a reminder, in early May NASA has initiated its InSight mission, whose goal is to explore the planetary interior of Mars. Two nanosatellites were launched along with its InSight robotic lander. These small satellites will be the first satellites of CubeSat format operating outside the near-Earth space.

In 2016, Mars Hopper project of Ukrainian inventors has won in the international competition held by NASA. Our compatriots have proposed the idea of using plane to investigate Mars, using dry ice from the surface of the planet as fuel.