NASA will send small autonomous helicopter to Mars in 2020

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The Mars Helicopter, a small, self-flying aircraft designed specifically for the Red Planet, will be included in the space agency's next rover mission in 2020 to beam back a birds-eye view of Martian terrain.

NASA has announced that it is sending a helicopter to Mars to explore the surface of the planet.

The helicopter to Mars aims to demonstrate the viability and usefulness of such aircraft on Mars, NASA said, with potential roles as a low-flying scout or to reach locations inaccessible from the ground.

"NASA has a proud history of firsts", Bridenstine said in a statement May 11. 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.

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NASA's Mars chopper will be controlled remotely, making it not just a helicopter but also a drone or UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle).

Its blades rotate about 10 times faster than the rate of a helicopter on Earth to get lift force in the thin Martian atmosphere which is only one percent that of Earth.

"To make it fly at that low atmospheric density, we had to scrutinise everything, make it as light as possible while being as strong and as powerful as it can possibly be". Those commands will take several minutes to reach the helicopter from Earth, so it will need some autonomous capabilities to make sure it can fly on its own, without anyone controlling it in real time.

The National Aeronautical and Space Administration Center adds a new flavor to its next Mars 2020 rover mission. After placing the helicopter on the ground, the rover will be directed to drive to a safe distance to communicate signals.

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NASA mentioned that scientists are planning a 30-day flight test period that will include up to five flights, starting with a short vertical jaunt to hover for about 30 seconds at an altitude of 10 feet (3 meters) and progressing to flight distances up to a few hundred yards and durations up to 90 seconds. If it does not work, the Mars 2020 mission will not be impacted. NASA acknowledges the challenge, saying this is a "high-risk, high-reward project".

"The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers", said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, in the statement.

The Mars 2020 Project at JPL in Pasadena, California, manages rover development for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The six-wheeled rover will hunt for signs of habitable environments as well as sites that may have once hosted microbial life, examining the Red Planet with 23 cameras, a microphone and a drill to collect samples.

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