independent: NASA has successfully completed the first test flight of a helicopter built to fly on Mars, as the space agency looks to find new ways of exploring the red planet.
The helicopter is scheduled to reach Mars in two years’ time as part of Nasa’s Mars 2020 rover mission, which aims to answer key questions such as whether humans could one day live in its harsh environment.
But flying it will not be easy. Controlling a helicopter remotely from hundreds of millions of kilometres away, in Mars’ thin atmosphere, and temperatures as low as -90C, is an incredibly difficult feat.
To ensure its success, Nasa had to replicate the red planet’s environmental conditions at its Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
“The Martian atmosphere is only about 1pc the density of Earth’s,” said Nasa project manager MiMi Aung. “Our test flights could have similar atmospheric density here on Earth – if you put your airfield 100,000 feet up. So you can’t go somewhere and find that. You have to make it.”
The space agency put the 1.8kg helicopter through its paces in a vacuum chamber by replacing nitrogen and oxygen in the air with carbon dioxide – the gas that makes Mars’ atmosphere so thin.
Given Mars’ cold temperatures, the helicopter is designed to have heaters to keep its equipment warm.
Source: Published by independent