NASA’s Mars helicopter has successfully passed several key tests

Mars Helicopter Testing Enters Final Phase

For each of these potential dangers NASA has developed ingenious solutions created to keep its rover healthy and able to scour the surface - and in the case of the 2020 rover, the subsurface of Mars - for clues that will help unravel the mysteries still held by the Red Planet.

The mission will also be carrying the space agency's prototype Mars Helicopter-a unique autonomous vehicle which has been created to demonstrate the viability of controlled, powered flight on other planets. In 2021, the small, autonomous helicopter will be the first vehicle in history to attempt to establish the viability of heavier-than-air vehicles flying on another planet.

Then, engineers exposed the helicopter and the delivery system to the kinds of vibrations that they will experience during launch and in-flight operations, as well as temperatures akin to those found in space-as low as -200 degrees Fahrenheit-to ensure that they were hardy enough to survive such conditions. The challenge for powered flight is the very thin Martian atmosphere that has only 1% of the density of Earth's atmosphere.

In January, NASA's Mars helicopter team operated the flight model in a simulated Martian environment.

Watch live as NASA's next rover, Mars 2020, is built and tested in the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The aluminum base plate, side posts, and crossbeam around the helicopter protect the helicopter's landing legs and the attachment points that will hold it to the belly of the Mars 2020 rover.

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While Mars Helicopter has no science instruments, it does have a high-resolution color camera that can provide images to demonstrate the potential for documenting the Red Planet.

"But we will never really be done with testing the helicopter until we fly at Mars".

In the future, helicopter-like vehicles may be a regular addition to Mars missions since they afford greater flexibility to relocate to new areas in short periods of time.

With these tests complete, the helicopter will be brought back to JPL, in California, where it will have a solar panel installed and more procedures. They could also be used as scouts or to carry objects quickly over long distances. "But it could also let us test a possible solution", said HP Principal Investigator Tilman Spohn of DLR. When it lands in Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021, the rover will also be the first spacecraft in the history of planetary exploration with the ability to accurately retarget its point of touchdown during the landing sequence. The main destination for the mission is the Jezero crater, where NASA hopes its rover might find signs of ancient life.


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