NASA has been inspecting Mars from close quarters on the ground by using landers and rovers. Orbital space crafts have also been used to observe the planet from far above as well. Now it has more ambitious plans in sight. NASA will soon tread the atmosphere of Mars mainly at low altitudes using a helicopter. The agency made an announcement on 11th May, 2018 regarding its plans to send the Mars Helicopter to the planet it is named after.
The expectation is that an aircraft of the likes of a helicopter will eventually provide researchers a brand new vantage point from which Mars can be observed. It will be humankind’s first attempt to fly an aircraft heavier than air (helicopter or airplane) in the Red Planet’s atmosphere. After landing with the rover in February 2021, the mission will comprise successfully after completing five test flights.
According to Thomas Zurbuchen, who is the associate administrator for NASA’s science mission directorate in Washington, said after it was proved by the Wright brothers that sustained, powered and controlled flight was feasible on Earth, and a group of pioneers might show that the same thing was possible in another planet.
The helicopter is quite small in size; whereas its main body would be like the size of a football and it would be connected to the craft’s belly pan. On landing, the rover will move away after leaving the helicopter on the Mars ground. Then solar cells of the helicopter will get charged using lithium-ion batteries. Consequently, controllers at NASA on Earth will prepare the spacecraft for its test flights, which could prove to be tricky. To rise into the thin atmosphere of Mars, the two counter-rotating blades of the helicopter will rotate at a speed of about three thousand revolutions per minute.
As per the Mars Helicopter project manager, Mimi Aung, the record for any helicopter ever used on Earth is nearly 40,000 feet. Since the extent of Mars’ atmosphere is about 1% of Earth’s, when the helicopter lands on Martian surface, it is at an Earth equivalent of 100,000 feet up. To make the helicopter’s fly at that low, an atmospheric density feasible, her team perused everything in detail, so that the space craft was as light while simultaneously being as secure as possible.