NASA is sending a helicopter to Mars in 2020

NASA is sending a small, autonomous helicopter to Mars in 2020. The Mars Helicopter Scout (MHS) will travel to the red planet with the agency’s Mars 2020 rover mission, currently scheduled to launch in June 2020.

The Mars Helicopter with the Mars 2020 rover in the background (Image: NASA-JPL Caltech)

It would be for the first time that a helicopter would fly in the Martian skies to scout interesting targets for study. The body of the helicopter is small but its blades are mighty and powerful.

This is because the atmosphere on Mars is just 1% as dense as Earth’s. So the helicopter would need to push enough air downward to receive an upward force that allows for thrust and controlled flight.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The helicopter would make 5 flights on Mars over a 30-day period, each time going farther than the last. It would fly for 90 seconds at a time and reach heights of up to 3 to 5 meters.

The helicopter would also communicate with the rover. It carries a camera which is as powerful as your smartphone cameras! The helicopter is battery powered but a solar array on the helicopter will recharge the batteries making it self-sufficient.

Animation of the Mars Helicopter flying on Mars (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The Mars Helicopter team has already performed a number of tests. In 2016, the team flew a test model of the helicopter in the 25-foot (7.6-meter) space simulator at JPL. The chamber simulated the low pressure of the Martian atmosphere. 

After Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity, NASA plans to do some amazing things with the Mars 2020 rover that have never been done before.

All the best NASA!

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