Mars Rover To Get Helicopter Sidekick
Consideration is being taken at NASA, regarding wither or not they should prepare to send a miniature helicopter to Mars to serve as an aerial scout for its Mars 2020 rover.
With the intentions of using the helicopter as a technology demonstrator, it would be the first vehicle to traverse through the thin Martian atmosphere.
NASA says they would use the solar-powered helicopter, which would be outfitted with GoPro-type cameras, to scout safe and efficient routes for the rover. It should have enough power to make two- to three-minute flights every day covering about 550 yards per sortie.
Bob Balaram, chief engineer of mobility and robotics systems at JPL, explained “Because this thing is going to take off every day and land every day, we want to make sure we have a bulletproof landing system, and landing is the riskiest part of any mission.”
Head of NASA’s Planetary Science division, Jim Green added “With the helicopter, you can build up your terrain paths much more. The helicopter also can moonlight as the rover’s official photographer, taking spacecraft “selfies” to a whole new level”
NASA figures the helicopter could allow the rover to cover three times more territory in a day than if ground control teams relied only on the rover’s on board cameras and images from orbiting satellites to plot the path.
The Mars helicopter being tested at JPL is a 2.2-pound cube about the size of a tissue box with blades that span 3.6 feet from tip to tip, and if approved, the helicopter would piggyback a ride aboard the Mars 2020 rover, then separate after landing.