NASA’s Mars helicopter whirls through tests on way to 2020 launch



NASA’s first Mars helicopter is getting near last approval for launch after passing a number of key exams.

The Mars Helicopter flight demonstration challenge will launch subsequent summer season with the Mars 2020 rover and contact down on the Pink Planet in February  2021.

Whereas the rover searches for indicators of previous life on the Pink Planet and caches samples for future return to Earth, the helicopter will soar above Mars in a sequence of demonstration flights. Future missions might see such helicopters scouting forward for the place rovers might go subsequent.

Associated: NASA’s Mars Rover 2020 Mission

Associated: NASA’s Mars Rover 2020 Mission in Photos (Gallery)

“No one’s constructed a Mars helicopter earlier than, so we’re repeatedly getting into new territory,” MiMi Aung, challenge supervisor for the Mars Helicopter at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, mentioned in an announcement.

Again in January, the flight mannequin flew in a simulated Martian atmosphere at JPL’s House Simulator, a vacuum chamber that has a diameter of 25 ft (roughly eight meters). Then it was moved to a Lockheed Martin House facility in Denver.

At its new location, the helicopter was examined for compatibility with the Mars Helicopter Supply System. This technique will carry the helicopter beneath the Mars 2020 rover’s stomach throughout launch and cruise to Mars. The helicopter will separate from the rover after touchdown.

In Denver, the connections and mechanisms between the supply system and helicopter had been examined to verify they match collectively. The mated system skilled vibrations much like what occurs throughout launch and cruise. Additionally, the helicopter and supply system had been put right into a thermal vacuum chamber to see how they carried out in chilly temperatures (minus 200 levels Fahrenheit, or minus 129 levels Celsius), much like the situations they’re going to expertise in deep house and on the Martian floor.

With these exams full, the helicopter went again to JPL on Might 11 for a number of extra procedures, together with spinning up the rotor blades and putting in a brand new photo voltaic panel. Extra testing is forward, however the finish is in sight — not less than for work right here on Earth

“We count on to finish our last exams and refinements and ship the helicopter to the Excessive Bay 1 clear room for integration with the rover someday this summer season,” Aung mentioned, “however we are going to by no means actually be executed with testing the helicopter till we fly at Mars.”

For the reason that helicopter is a demonstrator, it has no science devices on board; reasonably, its major goal is to point out that powered flight within the Martian environment is achievable. The Pink Planet’s air is simply 1% as dense as that of Earth.

Even when the minicoptercan take flight, there are different obstacles to beat, such because the time lag concerned in controlling it from Earth. (It takes between four minutes and 24 minutes for alerts to journey between Earth and Mars, relying on the positions of the 2 planets in house.) Imaging may also be examined to see the helicopter’s capabilities for transmitting high-resolution colour pictures.

“Future Mars missions might enlist second-generation helicopters so as to add an aerial dimension to their explorations,’ NASA officers added within the assertion. “They may examine beforehand unvisited or difficult-to-reach locations resembling cliffs, caves and deep craters, act as scouts for human crews or carry small payloads from one location to a different. However earlier than any of that occurs, a check car has to show it’s doable.”

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