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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.



Author: Hugh Bollinger/Friday, May 11, 2018/Categories: video, space science, art and design, environment, adventure

                                                        Mars Helicopter Project (credit: JPL)

What if you had an opportunity to fly about Mars? Where would you go first? The Martian Grand Canyon, Valles Marineris? the frozen polar icecap? or perhaps the seeping crater walls? More choices appear every day from various satellites orbiting Mars and rovers moving on 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 and fly over the landscape and provide details of what it sees.

According to a JPL announcement on their innovative project: the small, light-weight helicopter will travel with NASA's Mars 2020 rover mission scheduled for 2020 launching. The goal of the little Mars-copter is to demonstrate the viability and potential of autonomouse aircraft for use on Mars. The aircraft is the result of a JPL technology development initiative  designed to show what is possible using small high-risk, high-reward vehicles. Requring 4-years to design, test, and modify, the little vehicle weighs under 4lbs with a body about the size of a softball. The helicopter's twin, counter-rotating blades will beat at almost 3,000rpm in the thin Martian atmosphere, ~10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth. One of the 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 Mars-copter is deployed away from the rover, it will run a series of flights at increasing distances from the rover for its 30-day testing period. The information it gathers from the various flights will be beamed to the rover for transmission back to JPL in Pasadena. This is super-exciting stuff and shows what science, technology, and exploration is all about in the 21st Century.



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