NASA is building a helicopter that could fly in Mars' atmosphere

NASA wants to send a helicopter to Mars for its 2020 mission.

NASA's 2020 Mission will feature a helicopter that could not only land on the planet but could also take off and fly in its atmosphere. Given the atmospheric conditions on Mars, the aircraft will have features similar to a high-tech drone despite its "helicopter" label. NASA also needs to make sure that its Mars helicopter can navigate on its own.

The Revolutionary Vertical Lift Technology (RVLT) project seeks to come up with a brain for the Mars helicopter. The program is developing an autopilot system that will help the aircraft navigate through obstacles.

Unlike the traditional helicopter that comes with rotors rotating horizontally and vertically, the Mars helicopter will feature a co-axial design. It will have two similarly sized counter-rotating rotors put on top of each other. Each rotor will measure around four feet long. They can spin at 2,400 rotations per minute, making them ten times faster than any helicopter on Earth.

With the RVLT technology, the Mars helicopter should be able to manage sudden atmospheric changes, avoid obstacles and even fix technical issues.

"Looking to the future, if the Mars Helicopter works as planned, JPL scientists say future missions to the Red Planet could carry and deploy even more helicopters to extend the scientific reach of the landers they arrived on," NASA said.

The technology that will be used on the Mars helicopter will not only benefit the mission but can also have an impact on transportation technologies available on Earth.

"The Mars helicopter's initial flight will represent that planet's version of the Wright Brothers' achievement at Kitty Hawk and the opening of a new era," Susan Gorton, NASA's manager for the RVLT project, said. She added that for people working on flight research, that moment would be historic.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine also hinted recently while he was on the radio show "Science Friday" that it's possible that the first person to be make it to Mars would be a woman. He also responded to a Twitter question on whether NASA is considering including a woman as part of the crew of the Moon mission. He said that it is possible that the first person to make it to the lunar surface again is a woman. The official did not name any pilot, but the agency is set to have its first female spacewalk later this month.


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