NASA announced that it will send the first ever Mars Helicopter along with the Mars 2020 rover. Four years in the making, the NASA team finally decided that the autonomous helicopter can be sent to the Red Planet. The chopper will fly through the Martian air to observe if vehicles can levitate on Mars, which has an atmosphere 100 times thinner than on Earth.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said that NASA has a proud history of firsts and 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.
The Mars Helicopter is an autonomous drone which weighs just below four pounds, with twin counter-rotating blades that will hit the thin atmosphere on Mars at about 3,000 rpm, which is about ten times the rate of a helicopter flying on Earth. According to Mimi Aung, the Helicopter Project Manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, they do not have an autopilot because Earth will be several light minutes away, it is impossible to joystick the mission in real time.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Engineers have been trying to perfect the weight and shape of the helicopter for it to be able to fly in the thin air of Mars. Mars Helicopter will be flying in an atmosphere that’s as thin as altitudes of 100,000 feet on Earth, compared to an average helicopter on earth which just flies 40,000 feet high. The twin blades of the helicopter will rotate ten times faster than the helicopters on Earth.
Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s Associate Administrator for science, said that the ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers, and the views from a helicopter flying across Mars will also provide NASA with a stellar public relations tool as it seeks international support for sending humans to the planet in the 2030s or later.