Nasa is sending a helicopter to search the skies over Mars

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Even if the aerial project flops on arrival, it won't hurt the main Mars 2020 rover mission, which is scheduled for launch in the summer of that year to land in February 2021.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine described the prospect of a helicopter flying the skies of another planet as "thrilling", while Zurbuchen compared the mission to the Wright brothers pioneering flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903.

Mimi Aung, Mars Helicopter project manager at JPL, says that the altitude record for helicopter flight on Earth is around 40,000 feet. NASA has just announced that another explorer called the Mars Helicopter will be hitching a ride.

Known as the Mars Helicopter, the remote-controlled device weighs less than four pounds (1.8kg) and its blades spin at nearly 3,000rpm, roughly 10 times the rate employed by helicopters on Earth. The helicopters blades will rotate at up to 3,000 revolutions per minute, 10 times the rate of a terrestrial helicopter.

The Mars Helicopter weighs in at almost 4 pounds with a fuselage roughly the size of a softball and blades that spin 10 times the rate of an Earth-bound helicopter.

Nasa is sending a helicopter to search the skies over Mars
Nasa is sending a helicopter to search the skies over Mars

NASA plans to send a small, unmanned helicopter to Mars that could boost our understanding of the Red Planet. The Earth is too far away to control the Mars Helicopter remotely. This is meant to demonstrate the viability and usefulness of such aircraft on Mars. It goes on to show some actual flight test footage of how the machine would operate in a Mars-like atmosphere.

On its first flight, the helicopter will make a short vertical climb to 10 feet and hover for about 30 sec.

"We're very excited about this and the potential it has for opening up a whole new paradigm for how to explore Mars", said David Lavery, the program executive for solar system exploration at NASA headquarters. NASA acknowledges the challenge, saying this is a "high-risk, high-reward project". The six-wheeled rover will hunt for signs of habitable environments as well as sites that may have once hosted microbial life, examining the Red Planet with 23 cameras, a microphone and a drill to collect samples.

The Mars Helicopter is considered a high-risk, high-reward project, according to NASA: If the helicopter fails, it won't affect the rest of the Mars 2020 rover's mission, but if it succeeds, the agency will have a powerful new tool to survey the planet and access now unreachable locations. NASA's Launch Services Program, based at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch management.

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