Scientists at NASA have attached the Mars Helicopter to the Mars 2020 rover which the US space agency intends to send to the neighbouring red planet next year. If everything goes as per plan, NASA’s Mars Helicopter will be the first aircraft to fly on another planet.
The Mars Helicopter is a solar-powered helicopter which has a twin-rotor system. It was connected along with the Mars Helicopter Delivery System to a plate on the Mars 2020 rover’s belly which also has a cover for shielding the helicopter from debris during entry, descent and landing.
According to a statement by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the chopper will remain encapsulated after getting landed on Mars and will be deployed to the surface after a suitable area is found at the Jezero Crater for conducting test flights. The space agency says that the Mars Helicopter is considered to be a technology with a high-risk, high-reward demonstration.
Even in case if the tiny chopper encounters any problem, Mars 2020 mission’s information gathering will not be affected. But in case if the helicopter does take flight, the future research missions on the neighbouring planet can feature second-generation helicopters for providing an aerial dimension to their explorations.
“Our job is to prove that autonomous, controlled flight can be executed in the extremely thin Martian atmosphere,” JPL’s MiMi Aung, the Mars Helicopter project manager said in a statement. “Since our helicopter is designed as a flight test of experimental technology, it carries no science instruments. But if we prove powered flight on Mars can work, we look forward to the day when Mars helicopters can play an important role in future explorations of the Red Planet,”
NASA says that apart from investigating difficult-to-reach destinations such as caves, cliffs and deep craters, the helicopters can carry small scientific instruments or may act as scouts for human and robotic explorers. It wishes on establishing a sustained presence of the human on and around the Moon through the help of Artemis lunar exploration mission, which will use Moon as the first step for putting astronauts on Mars.
The Mars 2020 rover along with Mars Helicopter attached, will be launched through a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on July 2020 from the Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The rover is scheduled to touch down at Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021.
NASA said that Mars 2020 rover will be the first spacecraft in the history of planetary exploration with the ability to accurately retarget its point of a touchdown during the sequence of landing.
To recall, recently NASA incorporated the bit carousel containing all the tools the coring drill uses so as to sample the Martian surface into the Mars 2020 rover. This mechanism will play a key role in the acquisition, containment and eventual return to Earth of humanity’s first samples from another planet.
Apart from this, the US space agency is also inviting students to name its Mars 2020 rover. It has sponsored ‘Name the Rover’ challenge, winners of which will be announced on February 18.