NASA to fly first helicopter on Mars

Enlarge Image This illustration shows what the Mars Helicopter might look like as it readies for takeoff.                  NASA

NASA now has two cars roaming Mars - the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers.

The helicopter and rover are scheduled to launch in July 2020 and land on Mars seven months later.

Its fuselage is about the size of a softball, and its twin, counter-rotating blades will bite into the thin Martian atmosphere at nearly 3,000 rpm, which is about 10 times the rate of a normal helicopter on Earth.

Through this machine, the scientists hope to get some unparalleled bird's eye views of Mars.

NASA will send a helicopter to Mars to see whether it is possible to fly a craft that is heavier than air.

The spindly Mars Helicopter, which has been in development since 2013, has a box-like fuselage about the size of a softball and weighs approximately four pounds. The Martian atmosphere is so thin that the altitude of the helicopter at takeoff on Mars already corresponds to an altitude of 30,500 meters on Earth.

After the helicopter is placed on the ground the rover will be directed to drive to a safe distance to relay commands.

So, what exactly is the Mars Helicopter?

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Dubbed the Mars Helicopter, or "marscopter", the small aircraft will accompany the Mars 2020 rover in its exploration of the Martian landscape and be the first heavier-than-air vehicle made on Earth to fly on another planet.

Jim Bridenstine is an administrator at the National Aeronautical and Space Administration.

The helicopter's rotating blades will have to spin at 3,000 rpm - about 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth - in order to cut through the air.

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

"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".

The helicopter will attempt up to five flights, going farther and operating for longer each time - up to a few hundred meters and 90 seconds, officials said.

Successful tests would open the door to more aerial observation and exploration during future missions, however. The spacecraft will certainly after that come down on Mars in February of 2021.

The rover has six-wheels and is engineered to search for the habitable environments on the Martian surface.

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