NASA’S Marscopter

In a first for space ex­plo­ration, NASA plan to send a fly­ing probe to an­other world

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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.

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