In two years, a new US rover is set to visit Mars. Itwill be accompanied by a high-tech drone that will deliver unprecedented shots of the red planet.
NASA has exciting plans for future exploration of the Martian surface: Mission 2020 will also see the deployment of a special helicopter for the observation of the Red Planet from above. The research drone should weigh only about 3.3 pounds and not be much larger than a football, said the US Space Agency on Friday at the launch of the project.
Through this machine, the scientists hope to get some unparalleled bird’s eye views of Mars. An helicopter on Mars, however, poses a special technical challenge. The planet’s very thin atmosphere is not ideal for the flying of helicopters.
Mission 2020 is scheduled to launch in July 2020 together with a new Mars research vehicle and land on the neighboring planet in February 2021. “The idea of a helicopter flying over the surface of another planet is exciting,” said Nasa boss Jim Bridenstine at the launch.
However, in order to be able to stay in the air in the thin atmosphere of Mars, the helicopter must be super-light and very powerful. The height record for a helicopter flight on Earth is 12,100 meters, explained Nasa project manager Mimi Aung. The Martian atmosphere is so thin that the altitude of the helicopter at takeoff on Mars already corresponds to an altitude of 30,500 meters on Earth.
The Mars helicopter is said to have two pairs of rotors turning around 3,000 times per minute. That’s ten times more than a helicopter on Earth. The project carries a “high risk” with it, admitted NASA. However, if successful, it also offers the prospect of “high yields”.
If the helicopter does not work, the Mars project will not fail. Because the heart of the mission, a new Mars rover, should work independently of the helicopter. It should collect information about the habitability of the planet, search for traces of earlier life and explore mineral resources.