NASA Developing Helicopter Scouts for Mars Rovers

Posted on January 30, 2015

NASA engineers are designing autonomous helicopters that could act as scouts for Mars rovers. NASA says low-flying helicopter drones could provide better guidance as to where to send the rovers. The rovers are currently guided by images collected from the rover's onboard cameras and images from orbiting spacecraft.

The helicopter could fly out in front of the rover it is assigned to. The helicopters would gather additional images of the landscape. Scientists would examine the images from the helicopter to find the best features and rocks for the rover to examine.

NASA says the helicopters would weigh about 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds). They would measure about 1.1 meters (3.6 feet) from the tip of one blade to the other. The base of the helicopter would resemble a cube-shaped tissue box. An artist's rendition of the helicopter is pictured above.

The helicopter is currently being tested at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. NASA explains in this video how flying a helicopter on Mars is more difficult than here on Earth. The atmosphere is less dense so you need blades that spin faster and/or a much lighter helicopter to produce lift. Take a look:

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