US to fly helicopter on 2020 Mars mission

US to fly helicopter on 2020 Mars mission

NASA has announced plans to send a small helicopter to Mars on their 2020 mission, which also aims to place a rover from the the latest generation on the planet. During the flight demonstrations, the helicopter's twin, counter-rotating blades will cut through the Martian atmosphere at nearly 3,000 rpm-about 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth. Once there, it will use solar cells to charge its batteries and operate a built-in heater to combat frigid nighttime temperatures.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has given the thumbs-up to putting a helicopter on Mars.

The Mars Helicopter will be attached to the rover when it leaves Earth. The major issue, he said, was that adding Mars Helicopter could disrupt science operations of the main rover during that 30-day test period even as the mission was working to find efficiencies elsewhere to maximize its overall performance. On Mars, it will remove itself from the rover, and it will remain at a safe distance away from it. After its batteries are charged and a myriad of tests are performed, controllers on Earth will command the Mars Helicopter to take its first autonomous flight into history. The Mars 2020 rover is on track for a mid-2020 launch date.

NASA said on Friday it will send a small helicopter to Mars as part of the USA space agency's 2020 mission to place a next-generation rover on the Martian surface, marking the first time such an aircraft will be used on another world.

Mars has only 38 percent of Earth's gravity, but its atmosphere is vanishingly thin compared to Earth's, so the biggest challenge was to design a vehicle that is both light and powerful enough, according to Mimi Aung, the Mars Helicopter project manager at JPL. "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".

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The goal of the Mars Helicopter will be to fly around the Red Planet and to take photographs from a bird's-eye view.

The helicopter's first flight will see it climb 10 feet (3 meters) into the Martian air, where it will attempt to hover for 30 seconds.

"After the Wright Brothers proved 117 years ago that powered, sustained, and controlled flight was possible here on Earth, another group of American pioneers may prove the same can be done on another world", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator. 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.

Planning for the helicopter mission began in 2013 at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). NASA's Launch Services Program, based at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch management.

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