In a first for space exploration, NASA plan to send a flying probe to another world
In 2020, NASA will not only be launching their next rover to the Red Planet, they’ll also be sending the Mars Helicopter. The autonomous flying probe will be a technology demonstration of heavier-than-air craft, possibly opening up air-based exploration missions to other planets.
Mars’ atmosphere is about one per cent the density of Earth’s, so achieving flight is a significant engineering challenge. To overcome this, the rotors’ counter-rotating blades will spin at around 3,000rpm – almost ten-times faster than they would have to in order to fly on Earth.
If the project is successful, low-flying scouts such as this could dramatically improve the amount of ground future missions can cover. They can also support land-based rovers, providing navigational assistance by surveying possible routes and points of interest.