2018-05-13 13:04:19 UTC
Yes, NASA Is Actually Sending a Helicopter to Mars:
Here's What It Will Do
By Sarah Lewin, Space.com Associate Editor | May 12, 2018 12:00am ET
NASA will include a small, autonomous helicopter in the agency's
upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission, officials announced today (May 11).
The craft will undergo a 30-day test campaign once it reaches the Red
Planet to demonstrate the viability of travel above the Martian surface
with a heavier-than-air craft.
"NASA has a proud history of firsts," NASA's administrator, Jim
Bridenstine, said in a statement. "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." [Red Planet Express: 10 Ways Robots Move on Mars]
The Mars Helicopter's development began in 2013 at NASA's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory (JPL) in California. It's just under 4 lbs. (1.8 kilograms),
and its body is about the size of a softball, NASA officials said in the
statement. It will carry solar cells to charge up in the light of the
sun and a heating mechanism to endure cold nights on the Red Planet.
NASA's Mars Helicopter, a small autonomous rotorcraft, will explore Mars
with the 2020 rover as a technology demonstration for heavier-than-air
vehicles on the Red Planet.
The helicopter's twin blades will whirl at about 10 times the rate of a
helicopter's blades on Earth — at 3,000 rpm — to stay aloft in Mars'
"The altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is about
40,000 feet [12,000 meters]," MiMi Aung, Mars Helicopter project manager
at JPL, said in the statement. "The atmosphere of Mars is only one
percent that of Earth, so when our helicopter is on the Martian surface,
it's already at the Earth equivalent of 100,000 feet [30,000 m] up.
"To make it fly at that low atmospheric density, we had to scrutinize
everything, make it as light as possible while being as strong and as
powerful as it can possibly be," she added.
Mars 2020 is slated to launch in July of that year on United Launch
Alliance's Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in
Florida, and the mission should arrive at Mars in February 2021. The
six-wheeled rover will hunt for signs of habitable environments as well
as sites that may have once hosted microbial life, examining the Red
Planet with 23 cameras, a microphone and a drill to collect samples.
NASA will send a tiny helicopter to Mars along with its next rover in
The helicopter will ride to Mars attached to the rover's belly pan,
officials said. Once the rover reaches the planet's surface, it will
place the helicopter on the ground and move to a safe distance to relay
commands; controllers on Earth will direct it to take its first
"We don't have a pilot, and Earth will be several light-minutes away, so
there is no way to joystick this mission in real time," Aung said.
"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
The helicopter will attempt up to five flights, going farther and
operating for longer each time — up to a few hundred meters and 90
seconds, officials said. It will also climb to 10 feet (3 m) and hover
for about 30 seconds.
The Mars Helicopter is considered a high-risk, high-reward project,
according to NASA: If the helicopter fails, it won't affect the rest of
the Mars 2020 rover's mission, but if it succeeds, the agency will have
a powerful new tool to survey the planet and access currently
"Exploring the Red Planet with NASA's Mars Helicopter exemplifies a
successful marriage of science and technology innovation and is a unique
opportunity to advance Mars exploration for the future," Thomas
Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission
Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C., said in
the statement. "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
"The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial
for future explorers," he added. "We already have great views of Mars
from the surface as well as from orbit. With the added dimension of a
bird's-eye view from a 'marscopter,' we can only imagine what future
missions will achieve."
Email Sarah Lewin at ***@space.com or follow her @SarahExplains.
Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.
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John Ricci · Associate Professor, Department of Biomaterials, College of
Dentistry at New York University
Actually, since the drone "helicopter" can cover a lot more territory
than the rover, it makes a lot of sense. Modifying a drone for ths
mission probably makes it the most expensive drone ever, but it is
probably still a bargain considering the limited range and speed of the
rover. Besides, it will be one more UFO for the Martians to worry about.
Like · Reply · 14m
Bob Forsberg · Lake Forest, California
Save the taxpayers money and build in the deserts if these wasteful
government types think people actually want to live on Mars.
Like · Reply · 1h
Nosca Khalid · Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Huh! It is a drone not an helicopter and NASA can send more than one to
ensure that one or all will fly.
Like · Reply · 5h
Attempt 5 flights, This is why the USA is broke and 20 trillion in the
hole. The government does this on a whole lot of things. Spends billions
, hundreds of billions on throw away things. I bet the stupid machine
costs millions of dollars , each flight will cost a million bucks, They
could have spent the money on making the main mission more capable,
instead they engage in a publicity stunt that has zero actual science
value. If you look at the physics of the thing, the battery runs out in
less than a minute of operation, recharging the machine takes days so
the five flights are going to be over months when all the delays are
built in and the total flight distance will be at most a hundred feet.
Like · Reply · 1 · 8h
Ken Orc · Traveling Shamans at Middle Earth
Take your damned whining somewhere else! This is totally cool and all
you can do is fart in the wind.
Like · Reply · 1 · 6h
John Viands · Virginia Beach, Virginia
You are correct, Michael. It is a publicity stunt with no scientific value.
It may or may not be fun or interesting, but science? That it ain't.
Like · Reply · 1 · 33m
Jeff Jones · Toccoa, Georgia
If it's only the size of a softball, go ahead and pack two of them. In
case the first one fails.
Like · Reply · 1 · 9h
The rocket does not have the power to do that. The mission is figured
out for a certain weight which gets you to a certain size of rocket,
there is no wiggle room to additional weight. What they should do is
junk the stupid stunt and put more into the actual mission vehicle.
Like · Reply · 1 · 8h