NASA’s Mars Helicopter flight demonstrator soars into final testing

When the Mars 2020 rover finally sets down on Mars in February 2021 it'll look something like this. Image Credit NASA  JPL

When the Mars 2020 rover finally sets down on Mars in February 2021 it’ll look something like this. Image Credit NASA JPL

This image of the flight model of NASA's Mars Helicopter was taken on February 14, 2019, in a cleanroom at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Months of final assembly and testing lie ahead before the Mars 2020 rover is ready to ship to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Science fiction is getting closer to reality folks!

InSight landed safely on Mars on November 26 last year, kicking off a two-year mission to explore the deep interior of the Red Planet.

It will deliver a technological feat by demonstrating a controlled flight on Mars, a planet whose atmospheric density is 1% the density of Earth's. "It is great that we can share this part of our journey to the Red Planet with the public anytime they want", said Mars 2020 project manager John McNamee. "Our flight model - the actual vehicle that will travel to Mars - has recently passed several important tests". Among the highlights: A new solar panel that will power the helicopter has been installed, and the vehicle's rotor blades have been spun up to ensure that the more than 1,500 individual pieces of carbon fiber, flight-grade aluminum, silicon, copper, foil and aerogel continue to work as a cohesive unit.

So far, the Mars Helicopter has been tested in high-vibration environments that simulate launch and landing conditions, extreme temperatures like those found on the surface of Mars, and electrical and mechanical system integrity testing. Now, researchers are hopeful that the Mars chopper will become the first heavier-than-air vehicle to fly on another planet when the mission reaches the Red Planet in 2021. The helicopter will separate from the rover after landing.

The mission carries a number of scientific objectives, but perhaps the most exciting is the plan for the rover to collect and store samples from the Martian surface in secure containers that will be picked up by a later mission and then brought back to Earth where eager scientists will be waiting to study them. It is being sent to Mars simply as a testing and demonstration vehicle to provide scientists with information on a flight within the thin atmosphere of Mars. The robotic explorer will be accompanied by a helicopter equipped with a high-resolution camera when it launches to the Red Planet atop an Atlas V rocket next year.

Now, with excitement over the Mars 2020 mission at a fever pitch, NASA is offering us all a seat right inside its Jet Propulsion Laboratory where the rover is slowly taking shape.

A successful flight on Mars would pave the way for other helicopter designs to be used on future missions.

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