NASA said on Friday it will send a small helicopter to Mars as part of the US space agency’s 2020 mission to place a next-generation rover on the Martian surface, marking the first time such an aircraft will be used on another world.
The remote-controlled Mars Helicopter, designed to take flight in the thin Martian atmosphere with twin counter-rotating blades, weighs about four pounds, with a fuselage the size of a softball, NASA said. Its blades will spin at almost 3,000 rpm, roughly 10 times the rate employed by helicopters on Earth. “The altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is about 40,000 feet (12,200 meters). 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 (30,480 meters) up,” Mimi Aung, the Mars Helicopter project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. NASA officials said the rotorcraft will reach the Red Planet’s surface attached to the car-sized rover. After placing the helicopter on the ground, the rover will be directed to drive to a safe distance to relay commands. REUTERS