NASA has announced its plans to launch a tiny, four-pound, autonomous helicopter with its 2020 rover mission. The experimental, softball-sized drone will be the first to fly over the Mars and its atmosphere other than the landers that are used to deliver ground based rovers.
Challenges that scientists need to overcome
To design a flying vehicle that would actually work on another planet, NASA scientists must overcome several challenges. The Martian atmosphere is practically non-existent, the air pressure at the planet surface is lower than it is at a helicopter’s maximum altitude when flying above the Earth. In order to take off, the tiny flying robot needs to spin two blades ten times faster which is around 3,000 times per minute than it would on Earth. As it would carry the batteries and other hardware, these have to be made as light as possible.
Because of the weak atmosphere of the red planet, there will be communication delay between ground control here on Earth and the rover. The flying rover will have to be at least partially autonomous so that it can provide the first long-term bird’s-eye view of the planet to scientists and other autonomous vehicles.
NASA is hopeful
Despite having so many challenges, NASA has high hopes for this drone which is currently scheduled to launch in July 2020. “NASA has a proud history of firsts,” said NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine. “The idea of a helicopter flying the skies of another planet is thrilling. The Mars helicopter holds much promise for our future science, discovery and exploration missions to Mars”, he added.
When this flying helicopter arrives at Mars in February 2021, it will perform exploring mission to look for ideal landing zones on the surface and scan the planet for signs of life and hazards that might affect the astronaut who will finally land in Mars. It will also assist with the ongoing geological research.