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Mars Gets Drones?

NASA engineers a helper for their rovers

Mars Gets Drones?

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has revealed a concept drone called the Mars Helicopter that would accompany all future rovers and act as an aerial drone in an attempt to assist the research mission.

Mars rovers have long since given us Earthlings a new insight into the Red Planet. The first rover to land on Mars was Sojourner, that touched down in July 4, 1997. It was active until September 27, 1997. NASA tried again, and let Opportunity and Spirit, touch down only about three weeks apart. Both had a mere 90 sol (Martian days) of planned activity, but Spirit was active until it got stuck in 2009, and Opportunity is still operating today, and has covered over 25 miles on the planet. Curiosity landed on Mars in August of 2012, and is about the size of the car.

All the rovers have been invaluable assets in discovering the secrets of the Red Planet. But now, NASA has a new idea. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has revealed a concept drone called the Mars Helicopter that would accompany all future rovers and act as an aerial drone in an attempt to assist the research mission. The drone would fly daily, and share its reconnaissance with the rover, to more efficiently and effectively explore the planet by guiding the rover to the best research area based on aerial data.

The drone would fly daily, and share its reconnaissance with the rover, to more efficiently and effectively explore the planet by guiding the rover to the best research area based on aerial data.

The Mars Helicopter will weigh about 2.2 pounds and have a diameter of 3.6 feet, and while it would appear like a regular, commercial drone, it would be equipped with advanced technology that would allow it to communicate with the rover. It will also have a solar panel, which would allow it to charge itself as it travels.

In the video below, JPL chief engineer Bob Balaram explains, “There is the challenge of the very low density of the atmosphere. There’s the challenge of keeping the whole mass of the system small so that we don’t overwhelm the lift capacity of the system”.

No official date has been set for the first drone on Mars, as JPL has been doing a substantial amount of testing first. “Over the course of the last year we have done a number of tests in our 25-foot vacuum chamber using scale models where we pump down to Mars densities, demonstrating lift of these kinds of blades”, Balarm says. “Because this thing is going to take off every day and land every day, we want to make sure we have a bulletproof landing system, and landing is the riskiest part of any mission”.

 

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