NASA is really going to send a helicopter to Mars!
The helicopter will prove whether air vehicles are viable or not on Mars. The agency will send the helicopter in the Mars 2020 rover mission.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine stated that:
“NASA has a proud history of firsts. 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 project was born in August 2013, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), as a technology development project. The tiny device – weighing 1.8 kg – is going to prove that even at this size, it can do big things.
The Tiny ‘Marscopter’
Thomas Zurbuchen is the Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (Washington), and he explains what the main focus of the small helicopter’s mission is:
“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. 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.”
The helicopter can charge its lithium-ion batteries through solar cells. It also has a heating mechanism to keep warm in the cold nights on Mars. When Mars 2020 Rover flies to Mars, the helicopter will be attached to the rover’s belly pan.
A Long, Challenging Project
A helicopter flying in the Mars’ atmosphere was quite a challenge for the team behind the tiny device. Mimi Aung is the project manager of the Mars Helicopter at JPL, explaining the hard work behind the project:
“The altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is about 40,000 feet. 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 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.”
The Mars Helicopter is a high-risk project. But if it turns out it works, it will undoubtedly be a high-reward project. It will impact the future missions to Mars and enable next aerial vehicles to be sent to explore more of the Red Planet.
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.