NASA has been exploring Mars since 2003 with rovers, both of which went beyond their expected 90 day missions, one (Opportunity) has been going for 15 years and holds the record for the longest distance ever driven by any off-earth wheeled vehicle.
NASA has a new idea for how to explore our neighbour in the solar system and it is the first time they will send a heavier-than-air craft to the red planet. They plan to test exploration of mars with a helicopter!
The helicopter, which has been in development since 2013, weighs in at just under 4 lbs. (1.8 kilograms), and its body is about the size of a softball. It will carry solar cells to charge up in the light of the sun and a heating mechanism to endure cold nights on the Red Planet; where NASA expects to perform 5 tests in the thin atmosphere. The helicopter will be ramped up with each test eventually achieving flight up to a few hundred meters long, over 90 seconds and a hover 3 meters high for about 30 seconds.
This may not seem like much but considering it will have to spin its rotors 10 times faster than it would on earth to achieve these goals this is considered a good stress test for flight on Mars.
Naturally there will not be a pilot available to fly the mission and with the time lag between Earth and Mars there is no way to remote operate it via joystick so the mission will be flown autonomously with commands relayed by the rover that the helicopter is accompanying as part of the Mars 2020 Rover mission.
If you want to know more about the amazing mission and the helicopter that is meant to fly over the red planet you can read about it in NASA’s announcement here.
Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech from nasa.gov