NASA has a bold plan to send not only a rover, but also a helicopter as part of its 2020 mission to Mars. The autonomous Mars helicopter, which NASA hopes will be the first aircraft to fly on another planet, has successfully passed its flight tests and vacuum and deployment tests. Now, a helicopter ready to travel to the Red Planet has been attached to the Mars 2020 rover.

On the rover’s belly the rover was secured on a plate and covered by a shield to protect the fragile machine from rocks and other debris that would be kicked during entry and landing on Mars. Once the craft landed safely, the helicopter would take off from behind its shield and be sent into the sky to explore the Jazero crater area around the landing area.

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Since a helicopter is a very experimental piece of equipment, engineers will not depend on it to gather any important scientific data. Instead, the Mars mission will serve as a real-world test for the helicopter’s reliability, so NASA can see if it can revolve around the planet despite the thin atmosphere. If it is successful, engineers can use what they learn to build the next generation of helicopters for future missions.

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“Our job is to prove that autonomous, controlled flight can be executed in extremely thin Martian environments,” said Mars helicopter project manager Mimi Aung of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Since our helicopter is designed as a flight test of experimental technology, it has no science equipment. But if we can prove the flight operated on Mars we can wait for the day when Mars ‘S helicopters can play an important role in future exploration of the Red Planet. ”

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The primary advantage of having a helicopter as well as a rover is that an airplane can detect locations where it would be impossible to reach from the ground. It involves maneuvers around geographical features such as rocks, chasams and caves to get a more detailed view of the martial environment. In the future, helicopters could also carry scientific equipment to collect data from distant locations, or they could be used as scouts to investigate further field from human or robot explorers.

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