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Thu Jun 13, 2019, 01:29 AM

NASA helicopter passes key tests on road to Mars flight

10 June 2019

An engineer inspects the helicopter NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will carry to the red planet.
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Mars Helicopter, a two-rotor, 1.8 kilogram (4 pound) aircraft hitching a ride to the red planet aboard the space agency’s Mars 2020 rover, has come through key tests with flying colours, giving engineers more confidence the small chopper will successfully demonstrate flight in the ultra-thin martian atmosphere.

In January, the flight model was operated in a simulated martian environment and then shipped to a Lockheed Martin facility in Colorado where it was subjected to launch and flight vibrations and sounds to verify electrical connections and other mechanisms will withstand the rigours of launch and atmospheric entry. It was then sent back to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, on 11 May for additional testing.

A new solar panel was installed on top of the helicopter and its rotors were spun up “to ensure that the more than 1,500 individual pieces of carbon fiber, flight-grade aluminium, silicon, copper, foil and aerogel continue to work as a cohesive unit,” NASA said in a news release.

The helicopter is a technology demonstration project and as such it will not carry any scientific instruments. It is intended to demonstrate the feasibility of powered flight in the martian atmosphere, which has 1 percent the density of Earth’s. But, like readily available drones on Earth, it does carry a camera that will provide high-resolution colour images.


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