NASA Tests Mars Helicopter
The drone is planned to take off with the Mars 2020 Rover next year
NASA’s new Mars helicopter has tested successfully.
The drone, which is planned to depart from Earth along with the Mars 2020 Rover – arriving at the red planet in February 2021 – will be the first of its kind on another planet.
“The next time we fly, we fly on Mars,” project manager MiMi Aung said.
NASA scientists will use their 1.8-kilogram drone (NASA required that it weigh under 2 kilograms) to explore Mars’ geology. Furthermore, it will help scientists make assessments about what they would need to build future aircraft for Mars.
In order to test the drone, scientists had to recreate Martian conditions. In other words, they put the drone in a 7.6-meter wide vacuum cylinder. They pumped out all the air from the cylinder and then injected it with carbon dioxide, which makes up 95 percent of Mars’ atmosphere. They also used a gravity offload-system in the form of a motorized lanyard that tugged at the helicopter as it hovered above the ground since Mars has only two-thirds of our planet’s gravity.
“Watching our helicopter go through its paces in the chamber, I couldn’t help but think about the historic vehicles that have been in there in the past. The chamber hosted missions from the Ranger Moon probes to the Voyagers to Cassini, and every Mars rover ever flown. To see our helicopter in there reminded me we are on our way to making a little chunk of space history as well,” Aung said.
While the Mars helicopter flies overhead, and while the Mars InSight, which landed on the planet in November, burrows beneath the surface to study its interior, the new 2020 rover will join the Curiosity Rover, rolling over the surface of the red planet, conducting a geological assessment of the soil on Mars and for signs of life.