The testing of the flight model occurred in late January at NASA’ s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL, Pasadena, Calif., U. S.). Logging a total of one minute of flight time at an altitude of five centimeters, more than 1,500 pieces of carbon fiber, flight-grade aluminum, silicon, copper, foil and foam have proven that they can work together as a cohesive unit. But this recent test of the flight model was the real deal.
“Gearing up for that first flight on Mars, we have logged over 75 minutes of flying time with an engineering model, which was a close approximation of our helicopter”, said MiMi Aung, project manager for the Mars Helicopter at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
“The next time we fly, we fly on Mars” , said Aung.
This is our helicopter bound for Mars. But before the helicopter can fly at Mars it has to get there. We only required a 2-inch (5-centimeter) hover to get all the data sets needed to confirm that our Mars helicopter flies autonomously as designed in a thin Mars-like atmosphere; there was no need to go higher. Aung and her Mars Helicopter team did just that in JPL’s Space Simulator, a 25-foot-wide (7.62-meter-wide) vacuum chamber where Aung & Co. replaced nitrogen, oxygen, and other gases with carbon dioxide – the chief ingredient in Mars’ atmosphere.
Getting the helicopter into the extremely thin atmosphere is only half the battle. To truly simulate flying on Mars we have to take away two-thirds of Earth’s gravity, because Mars’ gravity is that much weaker”, according to Teddy Tzanetos, test conductor for the Mars Helicopter at JPL.
The team accomplished this with a gravity offload system – a motorized lanyard attached to the top of the helicopter to give an uninterrupted tug equal to two-thirds of Earth’s gravity. The Mars Helicopter, a small, autonomous rotorcraft, will travel with the agency’s Mars 2020 rover mission, currently scheduled to launch in July 2020, to prove the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet.
NASA Mars Helicopter team members work the flight model (Weighing in at no more than 4 pounds (1.8 kilograms), the helicopter is a technology demonstration project going through the rigorous verification process certifying it for Mars. It is expected to reach Mars in February 2021. A few months later, it will be deployed and test flights (up to 90 seconds long) will begin – the first from the surface of another world. Our test flights could have similar atmospheric density here on Earth – if you put your airfield 100,000 feet (30,480 meters) up. “The gravity offload system performed perfectly, just like our helicopter” , said Tzanetos.
The Mars Helicopter will launch as a technology demonstrator with the Mars 2020 rover on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket in July 2020 from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Mars 2020 will launch on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and is expected to reach Mars in February 2021.
Scientists will use the instruments aboard the rover to find and collect samples of rock and soil, encase them in sealed tubes, and leave them on the planet’s surface for potential return to Earth on a future Mars mission. Mars 2020’s goal is ambitious : collect samples from the Red Planet’s surface that a future mission could potentially return to Earth. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch management. After liftoff from Kennedy Space Center in Florida in July 2018, the Parker Solar Probe will become the first to fly directly into the sun’s atmosphere, known as the corona.
So, when vehicle reaches on Mars’ surface, it is already Earth equivalent of about hundred thousand feet up. NASA’s Mars Helicopter, designed to fly in thin atmosphere and low gravity, has successfully completed flight tests and is prepared for its journey to the Red Planet scheduled to take off in 2020, the US space agency said.
Its fuselage is about the size of a softball, and its twin, counter-rotating blades will bite into the thin Martian atmosphere at almost 3,000 rpm – about 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth. The result of the team’s four years of design, testing and redesign weighs in at little under four pounds (1.8 kilograms). After the helicopter is placed on the ground the rover will be directed to drive to a safe distance to relay commands. The helicopter also has built-in capabilities needed for operation at Mars, including solar cells to charge its lithium-ion batteries, and a heating mechanism to keep it warm through the cold Martian nights. Solar cells on the helicopter will have to charge the small craft’s lithium-ion batteries.
“This is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft for a living individual“, said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. With the added dimension of a bird’s-eye view from a’ marscopter,’ we can only imagine what future missions will do.
This is the first test of a heavier-than-air vehicle on another planet. After the Wright Brothers proved 117 years ago that powered, sustained, and controlled flight was possible here on Earth, another group of American pioneers may prove the same can be done on another world. If it does not work, the Mars 2020 mission will not be affected. During the first test flight, NASA hopes to get the helicopter to fly 10 feet into the air and stay there for 30 seconds. Western Isidis presents some of the oldest and most scientifically interesting landscapes Mars has to offer. The blades can rotate at 3,000 rpm (revolutions per minute), which is 10x faster than the Earth – helicopter.
After 18 months, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover’s onboard laboratories are back online. Since then, camera technology has taken a quantum leap. They will give dramatic views during the rover’s descent to Mars and be the first to capture images of a parachute as it opens on another planet. This new hardware is being developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, which manages the mission for the agency. As with various past proposed and flight Mars microphones, sound in principle could serve as an independent constraint on wind speed, and could help find the passing of dust devils.
The key things NASA are looking for are ways to safely land a craft with a human inside on the planet, and they are hoping to find more signs of life on Mars. NASA has chosen Jezero Crater as the landing site for its upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission after a five-year search, during which every available detail of more than 60 candidate locations on the Red Planet was scrutinized and debated by the mission team and the planetary science community. Bottom was the test lead for Systems Test 1, or ST1, the Mars 2020 engineering team’s first opportunity to take the major components of the Mars 2020 mission for a test drive. “It will step through mission critical activities at some very low Mars surface temperatures”, said Bottom.
According to the space agency, the mission team is already working to produce a replacement heat shield that will take the place of the damaged one. These tests are meant to give NASA a different way of exploring the planet. Boeing said future flights will test send, wing-borne flight, as well as the transition phase between vertical flight and forward flight.
Image Credits : NASA JPL-Caltech