The helicopter and next rover are due to land on Mars in February 2021, seven months after leaving Earth.
NASA's next Mars mission will have a helicopter onboard.
The announcement just came today from NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, a former congressman who was recently appointed to the position without having any background in science.
Solar cells will charge the helicopter's lithium-ion batteries, and a heating mechanism should keep it from freezing in the cold Martian nights.
On Friday NASA officials confirmed that they are planning to fly a light and small helicopter to Mars. The air pressure at the planet's surface is lower than it is at a helicopter's maximum altitude when flying above Earth.
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To cope with that, the marscopter's twin counter-rotating blades will spin at nearly 3,000 revolutions per minute (rpm), nearly 10 times the rate of an Earth helicopter.
It is part of the U.S. space agency's 2020 mission to place a next-generation rover on the Martian surface and will mark the first time such an aircraft will be used on another planet. If it fails, it will not impact the Mars 2020 mission.
The Mars Helicopter will bear no resemblance to the ones that hover nearly constantly in the skies above Los Angeles and tracking vehicle chases. The rover then will be driven away from the helicopter to a safe distance from which it will relay commands.
Once the rover is on the planet's surface, a suitable location will be found to deploy the helicopter down from the vehicle and place it onto the ground. It will also climb to 10 feet (3 m) and hover for about 30 seconds. "The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers", according to Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The Mars 2020 rover is on track for a mid-2020 launch date. NASA acknowledges the challenge, saying this is a "high-risk, high-reward project".
The Mars Helicopter is considered a high-risk, high-reward project, according to NASA: If the helicopter fails, it won't affect the rest of the Mars 2020 rover's mission, but if it succeeds, the agency will have a powerful new tool to survey the planet and access now unreachable locations. With the added dimension of a bird's-eye view from a "marscopter", we can only imagine what future missions will achieve. The rover is created to carry out geological studies and ascertain the habitability of the Martian environment, NASA said. NASA's Launch Services Program, based at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch management.