Credit: NASA/JPL

Credit: NASA/JPL

Add in another exploration tool for use on the Red Planet – a small helicopter.

The JPL robotics folks have proposed a tiny helicopter scout, one that could act as a science payload on the NASA Mars 2020 mission.

This aerial system could be deployed by the Mars 2020 rover, and would work in partnership with the mobile rover.

The lightweight device measures 3.6 feet (1.1 meters) across from the tip of one blade to the other.

Credit: NASA/JPL

Credit: NASA/JPL

Into thin air

Features of the system include: total mass of roughly 2 pounds (1 kilogram; counter-rotating propellers designed for use the thin Martian air; powered by solar charged batteries; a high resolution downward looking camera for navigation, landing, and science surveying of the terrain; and a communication system to relay data to the rover.

According to a “2014 Robotics Activities at JPL” paper by Richard Volpe, the operations mode for this helicopter would make it an aerial asset for expanding the exploration of the terrain ahead of the rover, for target selection, path selection, and geologic context.

As envisioned, for safety the helicopter would never be directly near the rover. Instead, it would be dropped off on the ground, and only become active after the rover has driven away by a sufficient distance.

Daily flight

Individual daily flights would be limited to a short duration of approximately 3 minutes due to power, but it should attain roughly 330 feet (100 meters) altitude and around a 20,000 foot (600 meter) ground track.

Daily communication of helicopter data will provide overhead image resolution, some ten times greater than orbital images, and greater area coverage than can be seen from the rover.

Credit: NIAC/Anthony Colozza/Ohio Aerospace Institute

Credit: NIAC/Anthony Colozza/Ohio Aerospace Institute

Entomopter proposal

A flying device on Mars has been proposed in the past.

Several years ago, the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (now the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program) funded the idea of using an entomopter for future Mars atmospheric flyer exploration missions.

Anthony Colozza at the Ohio Aerospace Institute blueprinted an entomopter using biomimetics and advanced circulation control techniques to achieve substantially higher lift than possible through conventional design.

Credit: NASA/JSC by Mark Dowman of John Frassanito & Associates

Credit: NASA/JSC by Mark Dowman of John Frassanito & Associates

While the helicopter idea is getting attention — and has been touted as a possible add-on to the Mars 2020 mobile laboratory — Mars hardware that takes flight, including balloons, may well become part of the exploration toolkit of a human expedition to the red planet.







Check out this Mars helicopter video at:

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