NASA's next Mars rover will have a helicopter on board

NASA's Mars Helicopter

NASA's Mars Helicopter

Once the helicopter is transported to Mars by way of the rover, it will begin flying around the planet on its own.

The helicopter is the result of four years of testing and redesigning a standard helicopter to shrink it down to an object that weighs a little less than four pounds. 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.

The helicopter also contains built-in capabilities needed for operation at Mars, including solar cells to charge its lithium-ion batteries, and a heating mechanism to keep it warm through the cold Martian nights. On reaching the Mars surface the rover will drive to a safer place.

Once on Mars, NASA plans to deploy the helicopter for a 30-day flight test campaign with up to five flights covering progressively greater distances. NASA hopes the helicopter will ascend to around 10 feet and hover there for around 30 seconds on its first flight.

NASA's next Mars mission will have a helicopter onboard.

Developed by Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a flying machine held aloft by twin rotors will be taken to Mars in 2020 and become the first "heavier-than-air" craft to be flown on another world, NASA announced Saturday.

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The helicopter will be brought to Mars attached to the belly pan of the Mars 2020 rover.

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

But don't let its cute stature fool you; this little fellow packs a lot of power and its twin blades are able to rotate 10 times faster than what we normally see here on Earth, reaching nearly 3,000 revolutions per minute. However, since Mars's atmosphere is just 1 percent of Earth's, a helicopter that's just sitting on the surface of the Red Planet is already at the equivalent of 100,000 feet on Earth. It is specifically created to fly in the atmosphere of Mars, which is 100 times thinner than Earth's.

Both projects are considered "high-risk, high-reward" technology demonstrations, meaning that neither of the two missions will be impacted if the CubeSats and the "marscopter" fail.

If the mission proves successful, helicopters will be used in future missions to planets to access locations not reachable by ground travel.

"The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers", according to Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

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