NASA is sending an autonomous helicopter to Mars in 2020

NASA is planning to send a helicopter to Mars in July of 2020

NASA plans to debut what they are calling a new helicopter during their next mission to Mars, the agency announced on its website on Friday. The views from a helicopter flying across Mars will also provide Nasa with a stellar public relations tool as it seeks global support for sending humans to the planet in the 2030s or later.

"NASA has a proud history of firsts", NASA's administrator, Jim Bridenstine, said in a statement. Because Mars is far away from Earth, with radio signals taking at least 20 minutes to cross interplanetary space, the Mars Helicopter will fly autonomously and not via a human operated joy stick as drones on Earth are controlled. This is meant to demonstrate the viability and usefulness of such aircraft on Mars.

The helicopter looks like "a medium-size cubic tissue box,"according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena, California, which designed it". The result of the team's four years of design, testing and redesign weighs in at little under four pounds (1.8 kilograms).

NASA said the blades of the small helicopter, which has a softball-sized fuselage, would maintain an RPM of almost 3,000, about 10 times that of helicopters on Earth.

Due to the atmospheric difference between Earth and Mars, the helicopter will be the equivalent of 100,000 feet in the air at home when it is on the ground on Mars.

NASA sees Mars Helicopter as demonstrating the ability of such vehicles to serve as scouts for future rover missions.

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After the helicopter is placed on the ground the rover will be directed to drive to a safe distance to relay commands. Once there, the chopper needs to find a suitable location, charge its batteries, complete all necessary tests and then, if all goes well, the aircraft will perform its first autonomous flight in history. The Mars Helicopter and the Mars 2020 rover will be carried into space by a United Launch Alliance Atlas V, scheduled to take off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

"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", Aung said.

If the tests work, NASA will be closer to exploring the Red Planet in a different way. It will also climb to 10 feet (3 m) and hover for about 30 seconds.

BBC notes that existing vehicles on Mars have been wheeled ones bound on the planet's surface, which is prone to running into obstacles. The spacecraft will certainly after that come down on Mars in February of 2021. Indeed, future Mars settlements could be constructed within the caverns, protected from the harsh conditions of the Martian surface.

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

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