NASA Announces It is Sending a Helicopter to Mars in 2020
12 May, 2018, 04:16
The Mars 2020 mission, slated to launch in July 2020, is a rover created to look for signs of past or present life on the Red Planet.
Known as the Mars Helicopter, the remote-controlled device weighs less than four pounds (1.8kg) and its blades spin at nearly 3,000rpm, roughly 10 times the rate employed by helicopters on Earth.
Because the atmosphere on Mars is 100 times thinner than Earth's, the blades will spin at 3,000 revolutions per minute, which is about 10 times faster than the speed of helicopter blades on Earth. The views from a helicopter flying across Mars will also provide NASA with a stellar public relations tool as it seeks global support for sending humans to the planet in the 2030s or later. The helicopter will recharge its lithium-ion batteries between flights with solar cells.
NASA is working toward a future when humans will walk on the surface of Mars.
The primary goal of the Mars 2020 rover is to investigate a to-be-determined ancient environment on Mars that could have hosted past or present-day bacterial life. Once they land, the rover will drop off its stowaway and continue to relay commands from the ground.
"The idea of a helicopter flying the skies of another planet is thrilling", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in the statement.
If the chopper fails to take flight on Mars, the rest of the mission will go on unaffected.
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The Mars 2020 rover is being prepared for launch in July 2020, with its landing on the Red Planet planned for February 2021.
In a press release, NASA said the Mars Helicopter is "considered a high-risk, high-reward project". 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.
Instead, the helicopter will "fly the mission on its own".
The helicopter is meant to demonstrate the viability and usefulness of such aircraft on Mars, NASA said, with potential roles as a low-flying scout or to reach locations inaccessible from the ground.
"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. The Mars Helicopter will be the first helicopter to hover over another planet, and if it is successful we'll have a whole new way to explore other worlds. The rover is created to carry out geological studies and ascertain the habitability of the Martian environment, NASA said. One of the rover's key tasks will be to collect samples of Martian rock and soil that could be returned to Earth during a follow-up mission.
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