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Filed under Innovation

Helicopters in Space

This+view+of+Mars+was+taken+with+filters+by+Osiris.+Photograph+reused+under+the+CC+BY-SA+3.0-igo+license.
This view of Mars was taken with filters by Osiris. Photograph reused under the CC BY-SA 3.0-igo license.

This view of Mars was taken with filters by Osiris. Photograph reused under the CC BY-SA 3.0-igo license.

This view of Mars was taken with filters by Osiris. Photograph reused under the CC BY-SA 3.0-igo license.

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For years now, we have known that human life can thrive on Mars. We have learned this from research found by the rover that landed successfully on Mars in 2012. This rover has provided us with data that allows us to study the magnificent planet that we might call home one day. Recently, they have decided to send a helicopter/drone-type device to accompany a new rover set to take off in 2020.

After successful testing of the prototype of the helicopter and a increase in NASA budget passed by Congress, NASA has decided to send this new four-pound device into space. This new helicopter will be ready by 2020 when the new rover mission is supposed to take place. This will be the first time a device like this has ever traveled to space. Scientists are depending on this device to observe Mars from low-level aerial view.

Mimi Aung is the project manager for the Mars Helicopter mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, and she is extremely excited for her creation to take off. “It’s phenomenal because this has never been done before,” Aung said.

Two other rovers, Curiosity and Opportunity, have been roaming around Mars sending pictures of the red planet as they look for past life. Both rovers have been successful in finding evidence that conditions were or are able to support life.

This flying rotorcraft will test the viability of aerial reconnaissance for scouting and scientific exploration. Engineers have decided to attach the new helicopter to the new Mars rover for take off, and it will remain there for the rest of the seven-month trip to Mars. After the rover has landed on Mars, controllers will send commands for the rotorcraft to land on its four landing legs, and then the rover will travel a safe distance away. The drone will then begin the first of five test flights.

The goal for NASA officials is to minimize the risk of a collision with the rover during the helicopter’s test flights. Engineers, officials and scientist also want to ensure that dust kicked up by the drone does not harm the rover’s instruments.

The device is bigger than the average drone on Earth due to the extra amenities it will carry. These amenities include two cameras (one for navigation and the other for higher-resolution color aerial imagery), avionics and sensors for the helicopter to fly independently around Mars (after the test trials) without commands from pilots on Earth.

“It’s a counter-rotating pair of blades, so there’s an automatic torque cancellation,” Aung said. “Those blades, tip-to-tip, are 1.2 meters in diameter … When it’s standing on the ground, from the ground up through the legs, and the fuselage and to the top of the rotor system, is about 0.8 meters.”

On the first flight test, the hope is to have the drone fly 10 feet high and hover for 30 seconds. After that, NASA hopes to take baby steps and test the limits of the drone until it reaches its goal of flying independently.

Technology is expanding everyday in amazing and unbelievable ways. Hopefully, this drone will be able to provide NASA with the information it needs to learn more about this strange planet.

Sources:

https://spaceflightnow.com/2018/05/14/helicopter-to-accompany-nasas-next-mars-rover-to-red-planet/

http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2018/05/16/nasa-helicopter-mars-2020-rover/

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Helicopters in Space