Mars helicopter: NASA completes first test flight of device that will explore Red Planet

The US space agency is working on ambitious plans to fly the drone-type device in the skies above the Red Planet in 2021.

Until now, exploration on other planets had been restricted to rovers on the ground and NASA hopes the helicopter will reveal a new perspective on Mars’ surface.

It will be a difficult technical feat, however, as the device will be controlled remotely from hundreds of millions of miles away and flown on top of Mars’s thin atmosphere.

Temperatures on the planet drop as low as -90C (-130F) at night.

NASA tested the mini-helicopter, which weighs just 4lb (1.8kg), in a vacuum chamber at the space agency’s jet propulsion laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The chamber swaps nitrogen, oxygen and other gases for carbon dioxide to mimic the atmosphere of the Red Planet.

Test conductor Teddy Tzanetos said: “Getting our helicopter into an extremely thin atmosphere is only part of the challenge.

“To truly simulate flying on Mars we have to take away two-thirds of Earth’s gravity, because Mars’ gravity is that much weaker.”

NASA is aiming to launch the helicopter in July 2020 with the Mars 2020 rover.

It is expected to reach the planet in February 2021 and carry out flights a few months later.

Project manager MiMi Aung said: “The next time we fly, we fly on Mars.

“To see our helicopter in [the chamber] reminded me we are on our way to making a little chunk of space history as well.”

The news comes days after US Vice President Mike Pence told NASA that he wants astronauts on the Moon again within five years.

2019-03-31T12:04:08+00:00By |

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