Helicopter could be 'scout' for Mars rovers

Helicopter could be ‘scout’ for mars rovers
A proposed helicopter could triple the distances that Mars rovers can drive in a Martian day and help pinpoint interesting targets for study. Credit: NASA

Getting around on Mars is tricky business. Each NASA rover has delivered a wealth of information about the history and composition of the Red Planet, but a rover's vision is limited by the view of onboard cameras, and images from spacecraft orbiting Mars are the only other clues to where to drive it. To have a better sense of where to go and what's worth studying on Mars, it could be useful to have a low-flying scout.

Enter the Mars Helicopter, a proposed add-on to Mars rovers of the future that could potentially triple the distance these vehicles currently drive in a Martian day, and deliver a new level of visual information for choosing which sites to explore.

The helicopter would fly ahead of the rover almost every day, checking out various possible points of interest and helping engineers back on Earth plan the best driving route.

Scientists could also use the helicopter images to look for features for the rover to study in further detail. Another part of the helicopter's job would be to check out the best places for the rover to collect key samples and rocks for a cache, which a next-generation rover could pick up later.

The vehicle is envisioned to weigh 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) and measure 3.6 feet (1.1 meters) across from the tip of one blade to the other. The prototype body looks like a medium-size cubic tissue box.

The current design is a proof-of-concept technology demonstration that has been tested at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.


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Jan 26, 2015
This is exciting. But I hope that if they do include it, it's not mission-critical, and that the price put into developing/deploying it is significantly less than that of just adding another scientific instrument to the system, which would have far more predictability and scientific usefulness.

Jan 26, 2015
is this a joke? air density on mars is so low that , even accounting for lower gravity, there is no way you could produce enough thrust from flying wing flight, let alone a spinning wing helicopter.

you'd think with all the nonsense gas balloon plans for for venus, that space folks would just drag and drop those designs, with slight modification , for mars. no oxygen in the atmosphere means no risk of fire with a hydrogen balloon. low air pressure does mean less left, but it also means more volume displacement. plus with martian winds , you could easily get the baloon around.

a balloon with thrusters---flying floating wing----could be the trick.

heavier than air flying craft are pointless on a planet with almost no air. and of course, with so much substantial gravity, rocketing around mars is not going to be possible, even if you do believe in elon musks fantasies about landing rockets vertically on mars. using them for travel is just wasteful of the fue

Jan 26, 2015
@tb,

No, not a joke. Since the density of Mar's atmosphere is very well quantified, it is only a matter of doing the math.

Obviously, they have done so, and this design is capable of sustained, sontrolled flight under the very conditions found on Mars.

Why does this surprise you?

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