Nasa to send first-ever copter to Mars
Nasa views the copter as a 'high-reward technology' show.
Tampa - Mars 2020 is planned for launch in July 2020 with an arrival on the surface of Mars expected in February 2021.
The US space agency said it plans to launch the first-ever helicopter to Mars in 2020, a miniature, unmanned drone-like chopper that could boost our understanding of the Red Planet.
Known simply as "The Mars Helicopter," the device weighs less than 1.8 kilogrammes, and its main body section, or fuselage, is about the size of a softball.
It will be attached to the belly pan of the Mars 2020 rover, a wheeled robot that aims to determine the habitability of the Martian environment, search for signs of ancient life, and assess natural resources and hazards for future human explorers.
Mars 2020 is planned for launch in July 2020 with an arrival on the surface of Mars expected in February 2021. "Nasa has a proud history of firsts," said Nasa Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a statement.
"The idea of a helicopter flying the skies of another planet is thrilling." No nation has ever flown an helicopter on Mars before.
The undertaking began in August 2013 as a technology development project at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
In order to fly in Mars' thin atmosphere, the space helicopter has to be super light, yet as powerful as possible.
"The altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is about 12,100 metres," said Mimi Aung, Mars Helicopter project manager at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "The atmosphere of Mars is only one per cent that of Earth, so when our helicopter is on the Martian surface, it's already at the Earth equivalent of 30,500 metres," she added.
Engineers built the copter's twin, counter-rotating blades to "bite into the thin Martian atmosphere at almost 3,000 rpm - about 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth," said a Nasa statement.
The helicopter is equipped with "solar cells to charge its lithium-ion batteries, and a heating mechanism to keep it warm through the cold Martian nights."
Controllers on Earth will command the Mars Helicopter, which was designed to receive and interpret commands from the ground.
Plans are being laid for a 30-day flight test, with five flights going incrementally further each time, up to a few hundred metres.
Its first flight calls for a brief vertical climb of three metres, followed by hovering for a half minute. Nasa views the copter as a "high-risk, high-reward technology demonstration," it said.
If successful, it could be a model for scouting on future Mars missions, able to access places the human-built rovers cannot reach.
If it fails, it will not impact the Mars 2020 mission.