NASA is constantly exploring and discovering different planets for the benefit of mankind. “To go where no man ever gone before” is going to be hard when you don’t know where exactly you’re going. NASA is now working on a small helicopter that could fly ahead of future Mars rovers, checking out various possible points of interest and helping engineers back on Earth plan the best driving route.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is in the early stages of development of the helicopters. The biggest challenge for those behind the plan is making a helicopter that can take off and land safely on the planet, where the atmosphere is vastly different from that on Earth. This low flying scout will be helpful to NASA by giving them a better sense of where to go and what is worth studying on Mars.
The helicopter is envisioned to weigh 1 kilogram and measure 3.6 feet across from the tip of one blade to the other. Once on Mars the helicopter’s blades would have to spin much faster than on Earth or use bigger rotor blades. NASA has been testing the prototype in a big vacuum chamber. They have built scale models of the helicopters, which must spin at around 2400 revolutions per minute to be able to take off. The system is designed to fly for about two or three minutes per day. The rest of the time will be spent charging the helicopter using onboard solar panels, which will keep it warm as well as providing energy for the flights.
These tiny robotic helicopters will be about the size of a box of tissues, using cameras and sensors, looking for features and obstacles of Martian land, they will help find the quickest and least hazardous routes for the rover to travel.