NASA announced that its 2020 Mars Rover mission will carry a small autonomous rotorcraft—basically, a space-drone—to test helicopter flight in a less-dense atmosphere.
“The idea of a helicopter flying the skies of another planet is thrilling,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on the agency’s website.
“The Mars Helicopter holds much promise for our future science, discovery, and exploration missions to Mars.”
The blades of the four-pound helicopter will need to spin at nearly 3,000 rpm—ten times as fast as a helicopter on Earth—in order to bite into the thin Martian atmosphere.
“The atmosphere of Mars is only one percent that of Earth, so when our helicopter is on the Martian surface, it’s already at the Earth equivalent of 100,000 feet up,” said Mimi Aung, Mars Helicopter project manager at JPL.
“To make it fly at that low atmospheric density, we had to scrutinize everything, make it as light as possible while being as strong and as powerful as it can possibly be.”