NASA is planning to fly a helicopter on Mars. Helicopters have improved a lot since Igor Sikorsky’s first practical design, the VS-300, took flight on September 14, 1939 at Stratford, Connecticut. In the year 2018, when most can afford some type of remote controlled helicopter drone, a helicopter on Mars seems unsurprising. Getting a helicopter to work on Mars, however, is much trickier than it sounds due to the thin Martian air.
NASA is sending a helicopter to Mars.
The Mars Helicopter, a small, autonomous rotorcraft, will travel with the agency’s Mars 2020 rover mission, currently scheduled to launch in July 2020, to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet.
“NASA has a proud history of firsts,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “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.”
Here are more details.
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. …
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.”
It is very unlikely you could make it past 40,000 feet in a helicopter on Earth, but NASA will need to make the equivalent of a drone helicopter that can reach 100,000 ft (18.94 miles up) here on earth.
The civilian record may be 11,000 ft for a drone:
A European drone hobbyist has apparently flown a DJI Phantom 2 to a record 11,000 feet up. It takes about three-and-a-half minutes to reach that altitude, and once the drone gets up there, the operator has to race the aircraft back to the surface before the remaining 27% of battery life runs out, making it just in time with 4% left, according to the video.
– PopMech (3/2016)
As of March 2018, a new record was reported:
Incredible moment a tiny DIY drone flies a record 33,000ft into the air reaching an altitude normally reserved for passenger jets
For fun perspective, the distance to Mars is an average of 739.2 billion feet (739,200,000,000 ft). The actual distance depends on where the Earth and Mars are in their orbits, at the time, of course.
On average, the distance to Mars from Earth is 140 million miles (225 million kilometers).
Planes fly higher than helicopters.
Some planes with powerful engines can fly very high, over 100,000 feet. So planes = thrust from engines and lift from wings. … But helicopters depend on the rotors for all its lift. The thin rotors are like its wings.
Given the money it will cost to put a helicopter on Mars, is it worth it? Why not a combination helicopter and glider?
Whatever the design, they may need a way to map the terrain in more detail than the satellite can provide. With all our advanced satellite abilities, it’s hard to imagine this being the case, of course. Could something else be moving around on Mars that they want to spot?
Movie idea: The year is 2018. The Russians, Japanese and Chinese all somehow have secret camouflaged rovers on Mars, hidden from the satellites, playing tricks on our rovers. The USA must up its game by sending a helicopter. In the movie, anything announced as being in the future has already happened years ago. One man, Fakuos Grubknock, accidentally intercepts the encrypted Japanese rover commands while monitoring Mars with a homemade neutrino detector. He subsequently discovers a drone war is taking place … a war between Earth countries … fought by battle bots … on Martian soil.