In Brief

Nasa successfully trials helicopter that will fly on Mars

Space agency is expected to send the vehicle to the red planet next July

Nasa has successfully trialled a robotic helicopter that is capable of flying in the harsh conditions of Mars’s atmosphere. 

Until now, only ground-based rovers have been successfully deployed onto the surface of Mars, which relay images and data back to Earth. But Nasa hopes the 1.8kg helicopter will “reveal a new perspective” of the planet’s surface, Sky News reports. 

Due to blast off to the red planet with the US space agency’s new rover in 2021, the helicopter will have to survive temperatures as low as -90C at night and maintain flight in an atmosphere that is significantly thinner than that of Earth’s, the broadcaster says. 

As Nasa is unable to test the helicopter on the surface of Mars, the space agency replicated the planet’s conditions using the Space Simulator at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, says Engadget

Using the simulator’s 25-foot-wide vacuum chamber, the agency was able to launch the helicopter and maintain an altitude of two inches for one minute, the tech site adds. Had the chamber not been available, Nasa would have needed to have trialled the device at an altitude of 100,000 feet above Earth’s surface.

Despite the short flight time, Nasa deemed the test a success and will now begin preparing the helicopter for its first mission. 

MiMi Aung, project manager for the space helicopter, told the London Evening Standard: “The next time we fly, we fly on Mars.

“The chamber hosted missions from the Ranger Moon probes to the Voyagers to Cassini, and every Mars rover ever flown”, said Aung. “To see our helicopter in there reminded me we are on our way to making a little chunk of space history as well.”

Nasa is due to send the vehicle, along with its new Mars rover, into space in July 2020. The two machines are due to touch down on the red planet in February 2021.

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