The atmosphere of Mars is 100 times thinner than that of Earth and flying an autonomous chopper in that kind of air could prove extremely hard. The BBC said this could be the first test of "heavier-than-air aircraft on another planet".
Since it is a technology demonstration, the Mars Helicopter is considered a high-risk, high-reward project. Twin counter-rotating blades will spin at nearly 3,000 rpm, created to counteract Mars' thin atmosphere.
But according to Spaceflight Now, it seems that childhood idea might not be as unlikely as we once though as engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have been working for the past four years to design a helicopter that could be a part of the next Martian rover mission in 2020.
It seems like the obvious answer to explore Mars, but sending a helicopter out there is an incredible, but possibly feasible, challenge.
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"The altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is about 40,000 feet". The twin blades of the helicopter will rotate ten times faster than the helicopters on Earth.
Weighing in at just 1.8kg, the Mars Helicopter has a fuselage roughly the size of a softball, as well as solar cells to charge its lithium-ion batteries and a heating mechanism to keep it warm through the cold Martian nights. But before the helicopter can fly at Mars it has to get there.
That said, it is also worth noting that NASA has said if the flight demonstration is not successful, there won't be any effect on how the next Mars rover goes about its job.
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 "Mars Helicopter", as NASA calls it, is a small autonomous rotorcraft that will demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the red planet.
NASA hopes that the helicopter will fly around 10 feet high and then stay hovering stable for 30 seconds for its firs test flight.
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"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 stated while stressing on the importance of autonomy for the upcoming Mars helicopter launch.
"The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers".
To deliver soil samples from the surface of the red planet, developing a complex chain of engineering solutions.
But if this endeavor truly takes off (sorry) it could add a valuable and revealing new dimension to space exploration missions down the road.
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