NASA plans to send mini-helicopter to Mars

May 12, 2018 by Kerry Sheridan
The Mars Helicopter, a small, autonomous rotorcraft, will travel with NASA's Mars 2020 rover, currently scheduled to launch in July 2020, to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The US space agency said Friday it plans to launch the first-ever helicopter to Mars in 2020, a miniature, unmanned drone-like chopper that could boost our understanding of the Red Planet.

Known simply as "The Mars Helicopter," the device weighs less than four pounds (1.8 kilograms), and its main body section, or fuselage, is about the size of a softball.

It will be attached to the belly pan of the Mars 2020 rover, a wheeled robot that aims to determine the habitability of the Martian environment, search for signs of ancient life, and assess natural resources and hazards for future human explorers.

Mars 2020 is planned for launch in July 2020 with an arrival on the surface of Mars expected in February 2021.

"NASA has a proud history of firsts," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a statement.

"The idea of a helicopter flying the skies of another planet is thrilling."

No nation has ever flown an helicopter on Mars before.

Thin atmosphere

The undertaking began in August 2013 as a technology development project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In order to fly in Mars' thin atmosphere, the space helicopter has to be super light, yet as powerful as possible.

"The altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is about 40,000 feet (12,100 meters)," said Mimi Aung, Mars Helicopter project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

"The atmosphere of Mars is only one percent that of Earth, so when our helicopter is on the Martian surface, it's already at the Earth equivalent of 100,000 feet up (30,500 meters)," she added.

Engineers built the copter's twin, counter-rotating blades to "bite into the thin Martian atmosphere at almost 3,000 rpm—about 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth," said a NASA statement.

The helicopter is equipped with "solar cells to charge its lithium-ion batteries, and a heating mechanism to keep it warm through the cold Martian nights."

Controllers on Earth will command the Mars Helicopter, which was designed to receive and interpret commands from the ground.

Plans are being laid for a 30-day flight test, with five flights going incrementally further each time, up to a few hundred yards (meters).

Its first flight calls for a brief vertical climb of 10 feet (three meters), followed by hovering for a half minute.

NASA views the copter as a "high-risk, high-reward technology demonstration," it said.

If successful, it could be a model for scouting on future Mars missions, able to access places the human-built rovers cannot reach.

If it fails, it will not impact the Mars 2020 mission.

"The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers," said NASA's Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the science mission directorate.

"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."

Explore further: Next NASA Mars rover reaches key manufacturing milestone

Related Stories

Helicopter could be 'scout' for Mars rovers

January 26, 2015

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 ...

Recommended for you

Giant flare detected on a pre-main sequence M star

November 13, 2018

Using the Next Generation Transit Survey (NGTS), astronomers have identified an energetic flare displaying quasi-periodic pulsations on the pre-main sequence M star NGTS J121939.5-355557. The newly detected flare is one of ...

Galaxies like Russian dolls

November 13, 2018

Jairo Méndez Abreu and Adriana de Lorenzo-Cáceres, researchers at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC), have discovered a peanut-shaped structure in the inner bar of a double-barred galaxy close to the Milky ...

How to drive a robot on Mars

November 12, 2018

Some 78 million miles (126 million kilometers) from Earth, alone on the immense and frigid Red Planet, a robot the size of a small 4x4 wakes up just after sunrise. And just as it has every day for the past six years, it awaits ...

35 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

granville583762
2.3 / 5 (9) May 12, 2018
The only way to Mars, robots and drones

The future of sending people to mars is here, we sit at are monitors in little old blighty while the real hard work is carried out millions of miles away on our planet Mars flying are drones, excavating and building with are robots and rovers. There is no other way we cannot physically travel to Mars; we have no space propulsion engine, this is our only alternative.
DunbarC22
4.7 / 5 (12) May 12, 2018
The only way to Mars, robots and drones...There is no other way we cannot physically travel to Mars; we have no space propulsion engine, this is our only alternative.


We've had the technology to reach Mars since the 1960s. A manned mission to the surface of Mars could have been achieved by the 1980s, had there been the political will to continue Apollo era levels of funding for NASA.

There are no insurmountable technological barriers to put humans on Mars.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.7 / 5 (12) May 12, 2018
We've had the technology to reach Mars since the 1960s. A manned mission to the surface of Mars could have been achieved by the 1980s
Of course you're full of crap. Most missions to mars have been failures.
https://marsmobil...ons/log/
There are no insurmountable technological barriers to put humans on Mars
More crap.

We don't yet know how to land humans on mars.

Re the article I would think a fast-moving scout vehicle that could get close-up looks at interesting objects without having their ponderous base rovers waste time diverting, would be useful.

Curiosity is currently driving around in a big circle, AWAY from the mountain.

The fossils are THATAWAY ->

Get thee to the mountain.
jonesdave
3.5 / 5 (16) May 12, 2018
We don't yet know how to land humans on mars.


Strange how they managed to do it on the Moon in 1969, then. Strange how we can do it on Earth, countless times. One has 1/6th gravity, and no atmosphere. The other has 1 g, and lots of atmosphere. What is so challenging about ~ 2/5ths gravity and 1% Earth atmosphere? What am I missing?
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.5 / 5 (11) May 12, 2018
What is so challenging about
What is so challenging about looking something up instead of fucking guessing like you know what youre talking about?

"At 1 ton (907 kilograms), Curiosity is the largest spacecraft yet landed on Mars. To land larger payloads, engineers are developing the Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (SIAD).

"The 28-foot (8 m) SIAD includes an inflatable section to increase drag during re-entry. The decelerator was first tested on a rocket sled, and next will be tested at high altitude in Earth's atmosphere.

"Eventually, versions of the decelerator could land multi-ton payloads on Mars' surface, which is a requirement for manned landings."

-LANDING is only one of many unsolved problems. Slowing down upon arrival is another one.

All of which can easily be found all over the internet for those who dont want to appear like phonies and morons, including any who uprated 'dunbar'.
baudrunner
not rated yet May 12, 2018
On the subject of the article, this bird ain't gonna fly.

Why not jump right to the chase, and launch helium-filled balloons once landed? https://mars.nasa...alloons/

cantdrive85
1.8 / 5 (5) May 12, 2018
There are no insurmountable technological barriers to put humans on Mars.

Except surviving the trip, but who cares about facts?

https://arxiv.org...1643.pdf
rrrander
1.8 / 5 (5) May 13, 2018
The main Chinese commercial drone company could build this for $50,000. NASA will spend $20 million.
granville583762
2.5 / 5 (8) May 13, 2018
Virtual but Real trip to Mars

The Down Trodden Mass's pockets provide the trillions of dollars, we can send a manned mission to mars: 1- you only have sufficient fuel just to get there, 2- if you survive the landing you have no spare fuel to launch for the return trip, 3- you're stuck on a barren airless planet with a few weeks supply of food and a very limited fuel, 4- the next launch window is six months for the nine month trip a total of fifteen months.

The Down Trodden Mass's pockets have been emptied to such an extent they physically cannot provide any more money for a rescue mission.

The alternative of sending people to mars sitting at our monitors in little old blighty while the real hard work is carried out millions of miles away on our planet Mars flying are drones suddenly sounds realistic an infinitely more appetising.

Oh! I almost forgot, we don't have to send out "King John" to rob the Down Trodden Mass's pockets
Da Schneib
3 / 5 (2) May 13, 2018
Cue the nutjobs organizing protests against sending drones to Mars. Followed by conspiracy theorists.
ShotmanMaslo
3.4 / 5 (5) May 13, 2018
LANDING is only one of many unsolved problems. Slowing down upon arrival is another one.


Both problems are being solved as we speak, and could have been solved decades ago if we wanted to. They are engineering obstacles, not insurmountable barriers. Aerobraking and a braking with a rocket engine could plausibly allow landing 150 ton payloads on Mars.

the chemical fuel is insufficient for two-way trip to Mars


False, with orbital refueling and fuel manufacturing on Mars it is sufficient. One way trip takes around 4 months, even with chemical fuel.
ShotmanMaslo
4 / 5 (4) May 13, 2018
Except surviving the trip, but who cares about facts?


Apparently you dont, because nothing in your source says the trip is deadly. Total radiation dose for a round trip Mars mission from all sources is roughly 500 mSv, most of it from galactic cosmic rays during coasting phases. This is equivalent to 1-2 years on the ISS. A concern, with 5-10% increase in cancer rate, but not a showstopper.

The only way to Mars, robots and drones


Robots alone are fine for taking photos and measurements but they are severely gimped by great time lag. To do any serious work on Mars, you need to have human operators at least in the vicinity of Mars. Not to mention that if your goal is colonization, then you need to have humans somewhere over there by definition. Robots will certainly be crucial in any offworld colony, tough.
granville583762
2.7 / 5 (7) May 13, 2018
A rocket is a multi-stage engine

The suggestion of fuel dumps is an extension of that multi-stage approach.
This means before you travel to your destination you have to travel constantly back and forth laying out your fuel dumps and consequently were only able to travel as far as our fuel and hope that on our return trip that each fuel dump is adequately stocked.

This is certainly telling when we venture out of our solar system, we have to send out Shell first to lay out the fuel depots

The mind boggles when we aim our sights at our neighbours in the Andromeda galaxy.

cantdrive85
2.3 / 5 (3) May 13, 2018
Total radiation dose for a round trip Mars mission from all sources is roughly 500 mSv

I think you should reread the paper, the one way trip there you are going to receive 7-10Sv, about 15-20 times more than you claim. An astronaut will receive a deadly dose long before arriving at the unprotected surface of Mars.
ShotmanMaslo
4 / 5 (4) May 13, 2018
The suggestion of fuel dumps is an extension of that multi-stage approach.


Not the same as staging at all. Fuel depots and orbital refueling allow you to use multiple launches instead of one very big rocket. It is called distributed launch and would be a very beneficial trade-off. Most launch vehicles have large fixed costs, but low marginal costs, and could support higher launch rates than today. This is doubly true for reusable rockets. Large decreases in cost per kg to orbit are possible here. Think ~$ few hundred per kg, with thousands of tons of payload launched every year.

Then there is the option of using local resources to manufacture propellant on Mars or elsewhere. This circumvents the infamous rocket equation and allows much more ambitious missions than launching everything from Earth. Both Zubrin and Musk Mars plans are based on this approach.
ShotmanMaslo
4 / 5 (4) May 13, 2018
I think you should reread the paper, the one way trip there you are going to receive 7-10Sv, about 15-20 times more than you claim. An astronaut will receive a deadly dose long before arriving at the unprotected surface of Mars.


You misunderstood the paper. 7-10 Sv is the radiation dose of a large solar flare. But this is assuming no shielding! Fortunately solar radiation, while having very large fluxes, is not very energetic, and can be shielded quite easily. Look at the table in the study on page 3. Even a few milimeters of aluminum decreases that dose by a factor of hundred. Usual plan for a Mars mission assumes that propellant will be located between Sun and passenger habitat. This is enough to basically completely shield even largest solar flares. Galactic cosmic rays, not solar flares, are the real radiation danger. But even those are manageable for missions that last less than a year.
alexander2468
2.6 / 5 (5) May 13, 2018
We do not need rockets, in a few years we will have a space propulsion engines
Every one is talking about them.
The suggestion of fuel dumps is an extension of that multi-stage approach.


Not the same as staging at all. Fuel depots and orbital refueling allow you to use multiple launches instead of one very big rocket. .

antialias_physorg
3.7 / 5 (3) May 13, 2018
The idea of a copter is sorta cool, but I don't like the design. It seems like if this tips over even once it's done for. I'd much rather have seen a mid-body rotor and the whole thing mounted gimballed in a rollcage.

What is so challenging about ~ 2/5ths gravity and 1% Earth atmosphere?

1% atmopshere reduces your lift to 1% (OK, not quite since Mars has a almost pure CO2 atmosphere and CO2 molecules are more massive than O2/N2 molecules you're pushing around with a rotor on Earth, So you get slightly more lift than 1%).
At 40% Earth gravity this means you still need 40 times the power to get something flying than on Earth (or you have to make it 40 times lighter for the same power...or a compromise between the two)

1% atmosphere also means that cooling anything that gets hot during high power operations (motors, batteries) doesn't work well for extended periods of time.
dramputti4
3.7 / 5 (3) May 13, 2018
The idea of a copter is sorta cool, but I don't like the design. It seems like if this tips over even once it's done for. I'd much rather have seen a mid-body rotor and the whole thing mounted gimballed in a rollcage.

.


hence the wide landing gear, shouldn't tip over
alexander2468
2.6 / 5 (5) May 13, 2018

antialias_physorg - 1% atmopshere reduces your lift to 1% (OK, not quite since Mars has a almost pure CO2 atmosphere and CO2 molecules are more massive than O2/N2 molecules you're pushing around with a rotor on Earth, So you get slightly more lift than 1%).
At 40% Earth gravity this means you still need 40 times the power to get something flying than on Earth (or you have to make it 40 times lighter for the same power...or a compromise between the two)

1% atmosphere also means that cooling anything that gets hot during high power operations (motors, batteries) doesn't work well for extended periods of time.

The idea was only aired yesterday; oh well back to the drawing board.
And to think were contemplating sending people to mars?
antialias_physorg
3.4 / 5 (5) May 13, 2018
hence the wide landing gear, shouldn't tip over

Why take the chance if you don't have to? Especially given rocky ground.

The idea was only aired yesterday; oh well back to the drawing board.

I didn't say the idea wasn't feasible. I was just responding to jonesdave's query where the engineering challenges lie. (and on a further note, I guess making this thing long-term dust resistant will add a bit of a challenge as well)
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (4) May 13, 2018
hence the wide landing gear, shouldn't tip over

Why take the chance if you don't have to? Especially given rocky ground.

The idea was only aired yesterday; oh well back to the drawing board.

I didn't say the idea wasn't feasible. I was just responding to jonesdave's query where the engineering challenges lie. (and on a further note, I guess making this thing long-term dust resistant will add a bit of a challenge as well)
Shootist
1.8 / 5 (5) May 14, 2018
We've had the technology to reach Mars since the 1960s. A manned mission to the surface of Mars could have been achieved by the 1980s
Of course you're full of crap. Most missions to mars have been failures.
https://marsmobil...ons/log/
There are no insurmountable technological barriers to put humans on Mars
More crap.



otto, Freeman Dyson disagreed with you 50 years ago and still does*

*Hint: Dyson is way way way more in every way, than you are.
dramputti4
3 / 5 (2) May 14, 2018
hence the wide landing gear, shouldn't tip over

Why take the chance if you don't have to? Especially given rocky ground.

The idea was only aired yesterday; oh well back to the drawing board.

I didn't say the idea wasn't feasible. I was just responding to jonesdave's query where the engineering challenges lie. (and on a further note, I guess making this thing long-term dust resistant will add a bit of a challenge as well)

Honestly, i just have to see this thing fly on mars, it is such a brilliant concept, especially it being a helicopter albeit a contra rotator, closest to a conventional helicopter flying on mars.
milnik
1 / 5 (1) May 14, 2018
So, science has not yet found these geodetic lines in the network of curvature space time, and that these lines come to Mars very quickly. It is a bad idea to follow both Einstein's and Lorenz's "theory." With them can shorten both time and distance, and even if they travel through time, I can stay on Mars at will. !!!!
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (4) May 14, 2018
i just have to see this thing fly on mars

Agreed.
Though my favorite Mars-flyer idea was the high atmosphere glider/motorized drone.
https://en.wikipe...irplanes

The tech isn't all thet hard to do, but I think the main problem would be to get it to unfold/deploy it successfully. That operation seems extremely dicey.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.2 / 5 (5) May 14, 2018
An astronaut will receive a deadly dose long before arriving at the unprotected surface of Mars
So I guess musk and the various govts around the globe spending $Bs to get there, don't know what you know? No wonder everybody thinks you're full of shit.
Freeman Dyson disagreed with you 50 years ago and still does*

*Hint: Dyson is way way way more in every way, than you
I gave you a QUOTE from scientists working on the problem who don't have an answer yet.

Provide a quote from Dyson citing existing tech that could get humans to mars and back.

Citing experts is how things work best here, yes? If you can't it means that I'm at least way way way more than YOU.
granville583762
3 / 5 (6) May 14, 2018
Simulating Martian gravity and atmosphere on Earth.

Have they flown this model in a test chamber at mars air pressure and the same in a vomit comet to simulate Martian gravity while it's between the drawing board and proof of concept to see if the bird flies before it becomes the first Martian Dodo to lay lifeless on the Martian red dust.
unrealone1
not rated yet May 15, 2018
Capricorn One ??
alexander2468
2.3 / 5 (6) May 16, 2018
Fuel needed to reach 1/6 gravity versus 2/5 gravity and back again.

Sending a lunar Lander to Mars to explore the barren surface for a week, how much fuel does it need to land and how much fuel to take off again. If it needs a Saturn type rocket to take off from earth it does not need one for splash down, as there is no splash down on mars and no atmosphere, it relies totally on chemical propellant.

This suggest the enormous rockets needed to reach 1/6 gravity and back again have to be extremely even more enormous to reach 2/5 gravity!
ShotmanMaslo
3.7 / 5 (3) May 16, 2018
as there is no splash down on mars and no atmosphere, it relies totally on chemical propellant.

This suggest the enormous rockets needed to reach 1/6 gravity and back again have to be extremely even more enormous to reach 2/5 gravity!


You do not need enormous rockets to launch from Earth or Moon, look at the small size of Apollo lunar ascent module. Mars has an atmosphere and it should be sufficient for aerobraking.
alexander2468
2.1 / 5 (7) May 16, 2018
It requires massive rockets to lift a few pounds
as there is no splash down on mars and no atmosphere, it relies totally on chemical propellant.

This suggest the enormous rockets needed to reach 1/6 gravity and back again have to be extremely even more enormous to reach 2/5 gravity!

ShotmanMaslo> You do not need enormous rockets to launch from Earth or Moon, look at the small size of Apollo lunar ascent module. Mars has an atmosphere and it should be sufficient for aerobraking.

Firstly there is no atmosphere on mars so no aero braking
To get the moon rocket of the ground with sufficient fuel to get back again required the massive Saturn type rocket.
Do you live in another dimension? ShotmanMaslo
It requires massive rockets to lift a few pounds, why do you think we do not practicaly live in space

ShotmanMaslo
3.8 / 5 (4) May 18, 2018

Firstly there is no atmosphere on mars so no aero braking
To get the moon rocket of the ground with sufficient fuel to get back again required the massive Saturn type rocket.


There is atmosphere on Mars and it should be sufficient for aerobraking. Here, educate yourself:

https://en.wikipe..._of_Mars

You do not need prohibitively massive rockets for Mars if you use distributed lift, aerobraking, and produce propellant on Mars instead of bringing it from Earth. A Saturn V size would still be required but not bigger. There are more efficient and rational ways to do it than brute force, launch everything at once, Apollo approach.
flueninsky
2.5 / 5 (8) May 19, 2018
Embrace the new or we are going to be suck on this planet for eternity
ShotmanMaslo> You do not need prohibitively massive rockets for Mars

There's atmosphere on mars, but no one will want to rely upon it for aerobraking if you have run out of fuel
When there are alternative space propulsive engines, it's not necessary to carry on using rockets, there are more powerful engines that do not run out of fuel and that do not rely on carrying rocket fuel that eventually runs out. It's a fact of life ShotmanMaslo we do not live in the past of 1000year old Chinese rockets, we have to leave the past behind and embrace the new or we are going to be suck on this planet for eternity.
DunbarC22
5 / 5 (1) May 22, 2018
Of course you're full of crap. Most missions to mars have been failures.

The first successful Mars mission was launched in 1965. The first unmanned Mars landing took place in 1975.
We don't yet know how to land humans on mars.

Yes we do. The physics on Mars is not unique.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.