Mars Helicopter Testing Enters Final Phase

08 Juin, 2019, 22:07 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Not much happening at 1:13 PST Friday June 7th. Image Credit NASA  JPL

Now, researchers are hopeful that the Mars chopper will become the first heavier-than-air vehicle to fly on another planet when the mission reaches the Red Planet in 2021. NASA says that it isn't putting any science instruments on the helicopter beyond a camera, but that instead it's a "technology demonstrator" to prove that it's possible to remotely fly a Martian drone from Earth. Its objective is to confirm that powered flight in the tenuous Martian atmosphere (which has 1% the density of Earth's) is possible and that it can be controlled from Earth over large interplanetary distances.

The rover will look for signs of life on the planet and return samples back to Earth while the goal of the helicopter is to hover above to give scientists insight into the Martian surface.

In January, NASA's Mars helicopter team operated the flight model in a simulated Martian environment. The aluminum base plate, side posts, and crossbeam around the helicopter protect the helicopter's landing legs and the attachment points that will hold it to the belly of the Mars 2020 rover.

A newly-installed clean room webcam at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is giving members of the public a front row seat as technicians and engineers assemble the Mars 2020 rover. The robotic explorer will be accompanied by a helicopter equipped with a high-resolution camera when it launches to the Red Planet atop an Atlas V rocket next year.

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A successful flight on Mars would pave the way for other helicopter designs to be used on future missions.

They were also put into a thermal vacuum chamber to see how they performed in cold temperatures (minus 200 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 129 degrees Celsius), similar to the conditions they'll experience in deep space and on the Martian surface. "But it could also let us test a possible solution", said HP Principal Investigator Tilman Spohn of DLR.

In Denver, the Mars Helicopter and its delivery system were checked to make sure that the electrical connections and mechanisms that linked the flight vehicle with its cradle fit snuggly. The helicopter will separate from the rover after landing.

"We expect to complete our final tests and refinements and deliver the helicopter to the High Bay 1 clean room for integration with the rover sometime this summer", Mr Aung said. Once the Mars 2020 rover arrives at Mars on February 18, 2021, it will not only seek signs of ancient habitable conditions - and past microbial life - but collect rock and soil samples, storing them in sample tubes on the planet's surface.

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