NASA plans to send a chopper to Mars

NASA plans to send a helicopter to the red planet as part of the agency's "Rover" mission launching in July 2020, hoping to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on Mars.

Posted: May 12, 2018 4:35 PM
Updated: May 14, 2018 11:55 AM

NASA has long been able to check out Mars on the ground with rovers and landers and from far above with orbital spacecraft. Now, it wants to prove that it can sustainably fly around the planet's thin atmosphere at low altitude -- with a tiny helicopter.

NASA announced Friday it will send the Mars Helicopter to the Red Planet with the previously announced Mars 2020 rover, set to launch in two years from Florida.

The hope is that aircraft like this one -- flying mechanical scouts -- will eventually give scientists another vantage point from which to observe Mars.

The helicopter will be mankind's first attempt to fly a heavier-than-air craft -- think helicopter or airplane -- in an atmosphere other than Earth's, the space agency said.

Its mission will be to take five test flights after it lands with the rover in February 2021.

"After the Wright Brothers proved 117 years ago that powered, sustained, and controlled flight was possible here on Earth, another group of American pioneers may prove the same can be done on another world," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's science mission directorate in Washington.

3,000 revolutions per minute

The small copter -- its main body will be about the size of a softball -- will be attached to the rover's belly pan. After the rover lands, it will place the helicopter on the ground and move away.

After the helicopter's solar cells charge its lithium-ion batteries, NASA controllers on Earth will prepare the craft for its tricky test flights.

To rise into the Mars' thin atmosphere, the helicopter's two counter-rotating blades will turn at nearly 3,000 revolutions per minute, or more than 10 times as fast as a helicopter's blades on Earth, NASA says.

"The altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is about 40,000 feet. The atmosphere of Mars is only 1% that of Earth, so when our helicopter is on the Martian surface, it's already at the Earth equivalent of 100,000 feet up," Mimi Aung, the Mars Helicopter project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a news release.

"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," she said.

Hoping to see 'what lies beyond the next hill'

On the first test flight, NASA intends to have the helicopter climb 10 feet into the air and hover for 30 seconds.

NASA says it hopes to fly the aircraft incrementally father and longer in the four subsequent test flights, with distances up to a few hundred meters and durations as long as 90 seconds.

Because Earth will be several light minutes away, "there is no way to joystick this mission in real time," Aung said.

"Instead, we have an autonomous capability that will be able to receive and interpret commands from the ground, and then fly the mission on its own," she said.

If the tests work, NASA will be closer to exploring the Red Planet in a different way.

"The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers," Zurbuchen said. "We already have great views of Mars from the surface as well as from orbit. With the added dimension of a bird's-eye view from a 'marscopter,' we can only imagine what future missions will achieve."

Other Mars missions

The Mars 2020 rover will have a mission of its own -- including seeking signs of life for two years and using instruments to help NASA learn more about how to safely land humans there. It also will have microphones allowing NASA to hear sounds on the surface for the first time.

Two other rovers, Curiosity and Opportunity, continue exploring Mars, sending back photos of the surface and searching for signs of past life.

Opportunity landed on Mars in 2004 and has outlived its original plan for a 90-day mission. Curiosity landed in August 2012. Both rovers have found evidence that conditions were once fit for ancient life, as well as signs of active, ancient organic chemistry.

Earlier this month, NASA launched its InSight probe, expected to land near Mars' equator in November. It, among other things, is scheduled to burrow 10 to 16 feet into the planet's crust, giving scientists new insights into Mars' interior.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 608519

Reported Deaths: 9693
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion840461335
Lake45349684
Allen32803548
Hamilton29394315
St. Joseph27380381
Elkhart24404345
Vanderburgh19411249
Tippecanoe17970138
Johnson15069295
Porter14783169
Hendricks14401248
Madison10965221
Vigo10726181
Clark10677144
Monroe9383110
Delaware9116134
LaPorte9065163
Howard8236144
Kosciusko806983
Warrick672999
Hancock6697104
Bartholomew6484100
Floyd6428110
Wayne6136162
Grant5991115
Dubois555579
Boone551168
Morgan541295
Henry507864
Marshall503984
Cass483263
Dearborn479845
Noble473059
Jackson425047
Shelby417581
Lawrence391079
Clinton373043
Gibson370359
Harrison348144
DeKalb347164
Montgomery345754
Knox335639
Miami321444
Steuben313745
Whitley307326
Wabash303251
Adams300936
Ripley298445
Putnam296850
Huntington291659
Jasper289034
White273243
Daviess270474
Jefferson263338
Decatur247683
Fayette247148
Greene239862
Posey239328
Wells236051
LaGrange228862
Scott225339
Clay222532
Randolph213548
Jennings198936
Sullivan192333
Spencer191321
Washington186423
Fountain184027
Starke175443
Jay167623
Owen165737
Fulton164030
Orange159534
Carroll158015
Rush155118
Perry154229
Vermillion149134
Franklin148333
Tipton132332
Parke13078
Pike116926
Blackford111022
Pulaski97037
Newton90921
Brown88035
Benton86610
Crawford7999
Martin73713
Warren6817
Switzerland6615
Union6287
Ohio4907
Unassigned0376

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 859841

Reported Deaths: 10680
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin101171707
Cuyahoga855711125
Hamilton64017448
Montgomery43107418
Summit34836761
Lucas31350625
Butler30973232
Stark25786435
Warren19671140
Lorain19017223
Mahoning17321338
Lake16080154
Clermont15926111
Delaware1438878
Licking13204137
Trumbull12809316
Fairfield1279381
Greene12055137
Medina11591168
Clark10942265
Wood10348158
Allen9897126
Portage9296109
Miami916873
Richland9139118
Marion7459113
Tuscarawas7381182
Columbiana7327124
Pickaway726150
Wayne7034171
Muskingum703141
Erie6152129
Hancock552390
Ross548998
Scioto539164
Geauga508455
Darke470292
Ashtabula453073
Lawrence452654
Union451828
Sandusky436662
Mercer433589
Seneca430166
Huron428741
Auglaize422264
Shelby421222
Jefferson419269
Belmont416840
Washington388740
Athens38009
Putnam374975
Madison355129
Knox352622
Ashland344938
Fulton338443
Defiance330086
Crawford322374
Preble320637
Brown312921
Logan307332
Ottawa293943
Clinton290143
Williams278667
Highland275118
Jackson263845
Guernsey254125
Champaign252028
Fayette236530
Morrow23234
Perry231318
Holmes225474
Henry218749
Hardin213033
Coshocton205622
Van Wert202245
Gallia196726
Wyandot196051
Pike176217
Adams176115
Hocking172024
Carroll155616
Paulding144321
Noble120540
Meigs108624
Monroe100732
Harrison89121
Morgan83130
Vinton70213
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Cloudy
27° wxIcon
Hi: 33° Lo: 13°
Feels Like: 18°
Angola
Cloudy
25° wxIcon
Hi: 30° Lo: 12°
Feels Like: 15°
Huntington
Cloudy
27° wxIcon
Hi: 33° Lo: 10°
Feels Like: 20°
Fort Wayne
Cloudy
27° wxIcon
Hi: 33° Lo: 13°
Feels Like: 18°
Lima
Cloudy
26° wxIcon
Hi: 33° Lo: 15°
Feels Like: 15°
Light Snow Sunday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events