NASA’s Mars helicopter completes flight tests

NASA’s Mars Helicopter, a small, autonomous rotorcraft, will travel with the company’s Mars 2020 rover, at present scheduled to launch in July 2020. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA’s Mars Helicopter, designed to fly in skinny ambiance and low gravity, has efficiently accomplished flight tests and is ready for its journey to the Red Planet scheduled to take off in 2020, the US house company mentioned.

Weighing in at not more than 1.eight kilograms, the helicopter is a technology demonstration mission at present going by way of the rigorous verification course of certifying it for Mars. The majority of the testing the flight mannequin goes by way of needed to do with demonstrating the way it can function on Mars, together with the way it performs at Mars-like temperatures, NASA mentioned in a press release.

The helicopter has to perform in extraordinarily chilly temperatures, together with nights with temperatures as little as minus 90 levels Celsius. The helicopter is scheduled to achieve the floor of the Red Planet in February 2021, when the firmly nestled underneath the stomach of the Mars 2020 rover.

A couple of months later, it will likely be deployed and take a look at flights will start — the primary from the floor of one other world, NASA mentioned. “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,” mentioned MiMi Aung, mission supervisor for the Mars Helicopter at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory within the US. “But this recent test of the flight model was the real deal. This is our helicopter bound for Mars. We needed to see that it worked as advertised,” mentioned Aung.

While flying helicopters is commonplace right here on Earth, flying a whole lot of hundreds of thousands of kilometres away within the skinny Martian ambiance is one thing else totally. Creating the correct situations for testing right here on Earth presents its personal set of challenges. “The Martian atmosphere is only about one per cent the density of Earth’s,” mentioned Aung. “Our test flights could have similar atmospheric density here on Earth — if you put your airfield 30,480 meters up. So you can’t go somewhere and find that. You have to make it,” she mentioned.

The staff created a vacuum that sucks out all of the nitrogen, oxygen and different gases from the air contained in the mammoth cylinder. In their place, the staff injected carbon dioxide, the chief ingredient of Mars’ ambiance. “Getting our helicopter into an extremely thin atmosphere is only part of the challenge,” mentioned Teddy Tzanetos, take a look at conductor for the Mars Helicopter at JPL. “To truly simulate flying on Mars we have to take away two-thirds of Earth’s gravity because Mars’ gravity is that much weaker,” mentioned Tzanetos.

The staff achieved this with a gravity offload system — a motorised lanyard connected to the highest of the helicopter to offer an uninterrupted tug equal to two-thirds of Earth’s gravity. The Mars Helicopter’s first flight was adopted up by a second within the vacuum chamber the next day. Logging a complete of 1 minute of flight time at an altitude of 5 centimetres, greater than 1,500 particular person items of carbon fibre, flight-grade aluminium, silicon, copper, foil and foam have confirmed that they will work collectively as a cohesive unit. “The next time we fly, we fly on Mars,” mentioned Aung.

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. It is anticipated to achieve Mars in February 2021.

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