The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will send a helicopter to Mars with its Mars 2020 rover. The twin-rotor, solar-powered helicopter, which will be the first aircraft to fly on another planet, has already been connected to the belly of the Mars 2020 rover.
The helicopter will be covered with a special shield to protect it from debris during the entry, descent and landing. It will remain encapsulated after landing, deploying to the surface once a suitable area to conduct test flights is found at Jezero Crater, the rover's destination, the NASA said.
"The Mars Helicopter is considered a high-risk, high-reward technology demonstration. If the small craft encounters difficulties, the science-gathering of the Mars 2020 mission won't be impacted. If the helicopter does take flight as designed, future Mars missions could enlist second-generation helicopters to add an aerial dimension to their explorations," the American space agency said.
"Since our helicopter is designed as a flight test of experimental technology, it carries no science instruments. But if we prove powered flight on Mars can work, we look forward to the day when Mars helicopters can play an important role in future explorations of the Red Planet," JPL's MiMi Aung, the Mars Helicopter project manager said.
NASA is scheduled to launch the Mars 2020 rover, with the Mars Helicopter aboard, in July 2020 from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The agency said that when the rover will land, it will be the first spacecraft in the history of planetary exploration with the ability to accurately retarget its point of touchdown during the landing sequence.