Science fiction is getting closer to reality folks! NASA is planning to send its Mars Helicopter, a part of Mars 2020 mission, to the surface of Mars next year. The helicopter flight demonstration has passed a number of key tests as planned, without any trouble and is now close to final approval for launch.
It will deliver a technological feat by demonstrating a controlled flight on Mars, a planet whose atmospheric density is 1% the density of Earth’s. Its purpose is to confirm that powered flight in the tenuous Martian atmosphere is possible and that it can be controlled from Earth over large interplanetary distances.
“Nobody’s built a Mars Helicopter before, so we are continuously entering new territory,” MiMi Aung, manager of the Mars Helicopter project at JPL, said in a statement. “Our flight model – the actual vehicle that will travel to Mars – has recently passed several important tests.”
In January 2019, the flight model flew in a simulated Martian environment at JPL’s Space Simulator, which was a 25-foot-wide vacuum chamber injected with carbon-dioxide. Then it was moved to a Lockheed Martin Space facility in Denver. At its new location, the helicopter was tested for compatibility with the Mars Helicopter Delivery System. This system will carry the helicopter under the Mars 2020 rover’s belly during launch and cruise to Mars. The helicopter will separate from the rover after landing.
The Mars Helicopter is a 4 lb flying robot that will be deployed on the Martian surface by the rover to explore the surroundings and other hard-to-reach places that rovers can’t get to. The vehicle could become the first of its kind in history to establish the viability of heavier-than-air vehicles flying on another planet.
This tiny copter doesn’t have any scientific objectives this time around. It is being sent to Mars simply as a testing and demonstration vehicle to provide scientists with information on a flight within the thin atmosphere of Mars. The helicopter is equipped with a single instrument that is a high-resolution camera. NASA hopes, it will capture some lovely shots of the Red Planet and relay them back to Earth.
“We expect to complete our final tests and refinements and deliver the helicopter to the High Bay 1 clean room for integration with the rover sometime this summer,” Aung said in blog post of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “but we will never really be done with testing the helicopter until we fly at Mars.”
Such helicopter-like vehicles may be a regular addition to the Mars mission in the future. It is because they can now afford great flexibility to relocate to new areas in short periods of time.