NASA has been testing the helicopter that will head to Mars next year
It will leave for the Red Planet as part of the Mars 2020 rover mission.
The news: NASA’s Mars helicopter has successfully completed a series of tests here on Earth. Although it flew only about two inches off the ground (as planned), the researchers have confirmed the helicopter is now ready to head to Mars. You can watch the full test video here.
What’s next: As project manager MiMi Aung said in a press release, “The next time we fly, we fly on Mars.” The copter is scheduled to touch down on Mars in early 2021. Soon after, the first test flights on the planet itself will begin. Although each one will last a mere 90 seconds, it will serve as a proof of concept for how scientific missions can extend their range in the air.
The challenge: Flying a helicopter on Mars is significantly more challenging than flying one on Earth. The air on Earth is about 100 times more dense than that of our planetary neighbor, which has only about one third our gravity. (A recent test of a lava tube mapping drone also had to take this into account.) That means NASA had to use a testing facility at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory that could simulate this environment.