An autonomous Mars Helicopter is set to form part of Nasa's next mission to the red planet, scheduled to launch in July 2020. And amid all this speculation: could the first man on Mars.be a woman? The autonomous helicopter needs it because of the low atmospheric density on Mars.
A recent statement suggests that NASA will soon launch a Mars helicopter in order to get a better aerial view of the planet. Mars Helicopter will be flying in an atmosphere that's as thin as altitudes of 100,000 feet on Earth, compared to an average helicopter on earth which just flies 40,000 feet high.
"If we were to fly the helicopter as a tech demonstration on something like Mars 2020, we would envision a very small number of flights to prove the aerodynamic and handling characteristics, and the concept of operations, and that would be the end of the demonstration", Watzin said.
However, reality is not that simple as unlike Earth's atmosphere, the Martian atmosphere is 100 times thinner which poses enormous challenges for a helicopter. Flight data will be relayed back to Earth via the rover, and the helicopter could also help inform which direction the ground vehicle should travel.
The current plan is for the Mars helicopter to perform five flights over a period of around 30 days, with each successive flight increasing the distance up to an eventual length of 90 seconds and several hundred meters.
"After the Wright Brothers proved 117 years ago that powered, sustained, and controlled flight was possible here on Earth, another group of American pioneers may prove the same can be done on another world", NASA's Science Mission Directorate associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said. Instead, the craft will have "an autonomous capability that will be able to receive and interpret commands from the ground, and then fly the mission on its own".
NASA considers the mission "a high-risk, high-reward project" and if it fails, it doesn't impact the rest of the rover's mission. "The Mars Helicopter holds much promise for our future science, discovery and exploration missions to Mars".
If a child sees the Curiosity rover on Mars and hears how slow its progress is over the planet, they might be thinking a somewhat obvious question: why don't we just send a helicopter there? "With the added dimension of a bird's-eye view from a 'marscopter, ' we can only imagine what future missions will achieve".
Mars 2020 is expected to reach Mars in February 2021 and will launch on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The rover will conduct geological assessments of its landing site on Mars, determine the habitability of the environment, search for signs of ancient Martian life, and assess natural resources and hazards for future human explorers. If the program works as NASA expects, the agency would have a whole new way to explore the Martian surface.