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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.



Author: Hugh Bollinger/Sunday, March 10, 2019/Categories: video, space science, art and design, environment, adventure

                                                        Mars Helicopter Project (credit: JPL)

What if you had an opportunity to fly over Mars? Where would you go first? The Martian Grand Canyon, Valles Marineris? the frozen polar icecaps? or perhaps the seeping crater walls? More choices appear every day from various robotic satellites orbiting Mars and rovers moving over the surface. But you would first need to have an aircraft light enough to fly in the thin atmosphere of Mars. The hyper-creative designers and out-of-the-box mechanical engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena are preparing to launch a small helicopter to Mars that will fly over the landscape and provide details of what it sees from an aerial flight.

According to a JPL announcement on this innovative new project: the small, light-weight helicopter will travel with NASA's Mars 2020 rover mission scheduled to launch next year. The goal of the little Mars-copter is to demonstrate the viability and potential of autonomous aircraft for use in Mars exploration. The aircraft is the result of a technology development initiative designed to show what is possible using small high-risk, high-reward vehicles. Requiring 4-years to design, test, and modify, the little copter weighs under 4lbs with a body about the size of a softball. The machine carries twin, counter-rotating blades that will beat at almost 3,000rpms in the thin Martian atmosphere, ~10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth. One of the JPL project managers commented that:

"the altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is about 40,000 feet. The atmosphere of Mars is only one percent that of Earth, so when our helicopter is on the Martian surface, it's already at the Earth equivalent of 100,000 feet up. To make it fly at that low atmospheric density, we had to scrutinize everything, make it as light as possible while being as strong and as powerful as it can possibly be."

Once the copter is deployed from the rover, it will run a series of flights at increasing distances from the mobile robot for its 30-day testing. The information it gathers from flights will be beamed to the rover for transmission back to JPL. This is super-exciting, super-creative stuff and shows what science, technology, and exploration is all about in the 21st Century.



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