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© NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory General | May 14, 2018

NASA is sending a helicopter to Mars

There is actually more information, but who needs that? Really! The Mars Helicopter, a small, autonomous rotorcraft, will travel with the Mars 2020 rover mission.
The Mars Helicopter will attempt controlled flight in Mars' thin atmosphere, which may enable more ambitious missions in the future.

"NASA has a proud history of firsts," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a press release. "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."

Started in August 2013 as a technology development project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Mars Helicopter had to prove that big things could come in small packages. The result of the team's four years of design, testing and redesign weighs in at little under 1.8 kilograms. Its fuselage is about the size of a softball, and its twin, counter-rotating blades will bite into the thin Martian atmosphere at almost 3,000 rpm -- about 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth.

The helicopter also contains built-in capabilities needed for operation at Mars, including solar cells to charge its lithium-ion batteries, and a heating mechanism to keep it warm through the cold Martian nights. But before the helicopter can fly at Mars it has to get there. It will do so attached to the belly pan of the Mars 2020 rover.

Once the rover is on the planet's surface, a suitable location will be found to deploy the helicopter down from the vehicle and place it onto the ground. The rover then will be driven away from the helicopter to a safe distance from which it will relay commands. After its batteries are charged and a myriad of tests are performed, controllers on Earth will command the Mars Helicopter to take its first autonomous flight into history.

"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," said Mimi Aung, Mars Helicopter project manager at JPL. "Instead, we have an autonomous capability that will be able to receive and interpret commands from the ground, and then fly the mission on its own."

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July 18 2018 5:55 pm V10.0.0-2