NASA plans to send a small unmanned helicopter to Mars that could increase our understanding of the red planet.
It is part of the 2020 mission of the United States space agency to place a new generation rover on the Martian surface and it will be the first time that an aircraft of this type will be used on another planet.
Known as the Mars Helicopter, the remotely controlled device weighs less than four pounds (1.8 kg) and its blades rotate at almost 3,000 rpm, roughly 10 times the speed used by helicopters on Earth.
NASA officials said the plane will reach the surface of the Red Planet attached to the Mars 2020 mobile vehicle that aims to carry out geological studies and determine the habitability of the Martian environment.
“NASA has a proud history of firsts,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.
“The idea of a helicopter flying through the skies of another planet is exciting.”
The controllers on Earth will control the Mars Helicopter, which is designed to receive and interpret commands from the ground.
Plans are being prepared for a 30-day flight test, with five flights farther and farther away.
“The altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is approximately 40,000 feet (12,100 meters),” said Mimi Aung, manager of the Mars Helicopter project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“The atmosphere of Mars is only one percent of that of Earth, so when our helicopter is on the Martian surface, it is already on Earth’s equivalent of 100,000 feet (30,500 meters),” he added.
NASA says that if it is successful, the Mars Helicopter could be a model to explore in future Mars missions, and be able to access places that human explorers can not reach. If it fails, it will not affect the Mars 2020 mission.
“The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for the scientific mission.
“We already have excellent views of Mars from both the surface and the orbit, with the added dimension of a bird’s eye view from a ‘helicopter’, we can only imagine what future missions will achieve.”