Mars Helicopter ready to fly to Red Planet

Mars Helicopter ready to fly to Red Planet

Mars Helicopter ready to fly to Red Planet

Although it flew only about two inches off the ground (as planned), the researchers have confirmed the helicopter is now ready to head to Mars. The craft hovered just a few inches in the air, but that's all the team needed. On Mars, the 1.8kg helicopter will be closer to 700g, dramatically altering its flight profile. However, the recent flight tests were performed with the actual helicopter bound for Mars.

On Earth, helicopters are a staple of action movies, search-and-rescue missions, medical transport, and aerial traffic reports. NASA is describing it as a "technology demonstrator" - a real-world (or real-alien-world) test of the system.

The Mars Helicopter will ride to Mars attached to the undercarriage of the Mars 2020 rover.

Remotely controlling a helicopter from hundreds of millions of miles away, on top of Mars's thin atmosphere and freezing temperatures as low as minus 90C at night, make flying such a device an incredibly hard technical feat. "Our test flights could have similar atmospheric density here on Earth - if you put your airfield 100,000 feet up". Luckily, NASA has a giant vacuum chamber conveniently located on the surface.

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To simulate Mars, the team removed all the Earth atmosphere from the chamber and then pumped in carbon dioxide until it matched Mars' atmosphere. Earth's atmosphere is fairly thick, but the same can not be said for Mars, where the atmosphere is super thin - a mere one per cent of what it is here on Earth. While the team was understandably concerned with how the helicopter would fare on its first flight, they were equally concerned with how the gravity offload system would perform. There's no way to change gravity on Earth, but a "gravity offload system" can fake it. That's the cable you see extending from the top of the helicopter. Soon after, the first test flights on the planet itself will begin. That proves the helicopter works in Mars-like conditions.

At some point after Mars 2020's February 2021 touchdown inside Jezero Crater, the little chopper - which sports two 5.9-foot-long (1.8 m) rotors - will drop from the rover's belly onto Mars' red dirt.

The mars 2020 rover will be based on the wildly successful Curiosity rover, which is still chugging along on Mars after almost seven years. The 2020 rover will conduct Martian geological assessments including determining the habitability of the environment.

In July 2020, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida en route to Mars.

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