April 28, 2019 1 min read

In early 2021, a tiny helicopter will land on the Red Planet with the Mars 2020 rover.

When the Mars 2020 rover lands on the Red Planet in early 2021, it will carry with it a small helicopter, the first human craft to fly on another planet. Until now, Mars has hosted orbiters, landers, and rovers, but no flying machines. The Mars helicopter is meant only as a technology demonstration. If it doesn’t work, the Mars 2020 mission will still succeed. If it does, it will have opened up entirely new avenues for exploring other worlds.

Into the Wild Red Yonder

While helicopters are old technology on Earth, flying one on Mars will be challenging. Thanks to Mars’ thin atmosphere, a helicopter flying just above the surface is already at the equivalent of 100,000 feet Earth altitude, far beyond where helicopters or even typical planes fly. The altitude record for a helicopter on Earth is only 40,000 feet. And even consumer drones on Earth can struggle at high altitudes.

So NASA engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory had to make a craft that was both incredibly light and incredibly strong. They think they’ve succeeded: the resulting chopper is only about the size of a softball, and weighs 4 pounds. Its rotor blades will spin at 3,000 rpm, 10 times faster than most Earth choppers. The team has been working on the project since 2013 as a technology demonstration, though it wasn’t approved for the Mars 2020 mission until May of 2018.

Read more here:  Astronomy.com

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