In July of 2020, Nasa will send a Marscopter to the Red Planet to demonstrate the viability of vehicles that are heavier than its air. This is considered a high-risk, high-reward project. The idea is to have the machine fly autonomously over the surface with commands relayed from the Mars rover. It will perform a series of tests over the course of 30 days.
The helicopter will ride on the belly pan of the Mars 2020 rover as a part of its mission, which leaves from Space Launch Complex 41 at Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The rover and accompanying helicopter should reach Mars around February of 2021. The Marscopter will use the thin atmosphere on the planet to assess NASA’s capabilities for controlled flight. This could end up being used all across the solar system. A NASA Administrator released a statement saying, “NASA has a proud history of firsts. The idea of a helicopter flying the skies of another planet is thrilling. The Mars Helicopter holds much promise for our future science, discovery, and exploration missions to Mars.” A lot was involved in making sure the helicopter will be light enough while still handling the altitude range necessary for successful operations there.
In August of 2013, a technology development project started at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Throughout the four years of research and development the team was able to design a four pound helicopter with a softball-sized fuselage. The Marscopter’s twin, counter-rotating blades spin at around 3,000 rpm, which is roughly 10 times the rpm of a helicopter on Earth. It includes lithium-ion batteries that are charged by solar cells, and a heating mechanism that will be extremely useful considering the planet’s cold temperatures at night. Check out a demonstration in the video below…