To rise into the Mars' thin atmosphere, the helicopter's two counter-rotating blades will turn at almost 3,000 revolutions per minute, or more than 10 times as fast as a helicopter's blades on Earth, NASA says.
Recent NASA missions to Mars have vastly exceeded their expected lifespans and as this helicopter has been equipped with a solar panel to recharge its lithium-ion batteries, plus kit to keep its innards warm enough to work during frigid Martian nights, perhaps we'll see 'copter's-eye views of the red planet for years to come. Controllers on Earth will command the helicopter to take its first autonomous flight after its batteries are charged and tests are conducted, NASA said. "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". The chopper will fly through the Martian air to observe if vehicles can levitate on Mars, which has an atmosphere 100 times thinner than on Earth.
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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.
Once the rover is on the planet's surface, a suitable location will be found to deploy the helicopter down from the vehicle and place it onto the ground.
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.
NASA has always been able to check out Mars on the ground with rovers and landers and from far above with orbital spacecraft.
"Instead, we have an autonomous capability that will be able to receive and interpret commands from the ground, and then fly the mission on its own", she said. It will also climb to 10 feet (3 m) and hover for about 30 seconds.
The Mars Helicopter is considered a high-risk, high-reward project.
But if it is successful, it will be the first step in using helicopters as aerial scouts for rovers.
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?
But if this endeavor truly takes off (sorry) it could add a valuable and revealing new dimension to space exploration missions down the road. The six-wheeled rover will hunt for signs of habitable environments as well as sites that may have once hosted microbial life, examining the Red Planet with 23 cameras, a microphone and a drill to collect samples.
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