NASA is getting ready to launch the Perseverance Mars rover this summer, but that is not all. As part of Mars 2020, the space agency is also sending a helicopter drone, as a part of a technology demonstration.
It’ll be easier to fly something like a drone on a planet like Mars where the object will be under gravity lower compared to Earth. But, the idea behind the flight, rather helicopter/heavier-than-air vehicle flight, is much more complex as it all depends on the lift produced.
While the acceleration due to gravity is indeed lower, so is the atmospheric density on Mars. So, a drone on Mars would need to produce comparatively more lift than it would need to here on Earth. If a helicopter is light enough with blades that are fast enough, it should fly. This is where the Mars Helicopter comes in.
The idea came to Bob Balaram after he had attended a lecture by Stanford professor, Ilan Kroo on the ‘Mesicopter’, a mini helicopter concept for Earth. But of course, he and his team have built a helicopter that hardly weighs 2 kilograms and will soar through the Martian skies with the help of counter-rotating blades.
At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the development of the helicopter drone started back in 2013. But, its addition to the Mars 2020 mission was rather recent. The Helicopter completed its final flight test in January 2019. Now, the rover will catch a ride with Perseverance rover launching aboard an Atlas V rocket and will then head on the path.