Nasa is sending a helicopter to Mars, in the first test of a heavier-than-air aircraft on another planet.
The Mars Helicopter will be bundled with the US space agency’s Mars rover when it launches in 2020.Its design team spent more than four years shrinking a working helicopter to “the size of a softball” and cutting its weight to 1.8kg (4lbs).
It is specifically designed to fly in the atmosphere of Mars, which is 100 times thinner than Earth’s.But if the Mars Helicopter does indeed fly, it’ll be able to capture a rare bird’s-eye-view of Mars with its two cameras, something that’s never been done before.
And that may mean it’s possible to send future flying vehicles to Mars to scout out locations that are hard to access.Ultimately, the vehicle will try to do five autonomous flights over a 30-day period; the trips could last up to 90 seconds.
“NASA has a proud history of firsts,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement on Friday afternoon, in the middle of SpaceX’s Block 5 launch. “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.”
It will be flying almost 55 million km (34 million miles) from Earth, too far away to send a remote control signal.