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NASA Is Sending a Helicopter to Mars in 2020

NASA sending autonomous helicopter to Mars with 2020 rover

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The concept received funding through NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts programme, which will provide $100,000 for feasibility studies.
The concept received funding through NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts programme, which will provide $100,000 for feasibility studies.. Pixabay
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NASA has confirmed it is sending an autonomous helicopter to Red Planet that will travel with the Mars rover mission, currently scheduled to launch in July 2020.

The small, lightweight Mars Helicopter will demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet.

“The idea of a helicopter flying the skies of another planet is thrilling. The Mars Helicopter holds much promise for our future science, discovery, and exploration missions to Mars,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement on Friday.

Started in August 2013 as a technology development project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the Mars Helicopter weighs at 1.8 kgs.

Its fuselage is about the size of a softball, and its twin, counter-rotating blades will bite into the thin Martian atmosphere at almost 3,000 rpm — about 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth.

“It’s fitting that the US is the first nation in history to fly the first heavier-than-air craft on another world,” said Representative John Culberson (Texas).

NASA Is Sending a Helicopter to Mars in 2020.
Mars. Pixabay

The chopper will attempt controlled flight in Mars’ thin atmosphere.

The helicopter has built-in capabilities needed for operation at Mars, including solar cells to charge its lithium-ion batteries, and a heating mechanism to keep it warm through the cold Martian nights.

“Exploring the Red Planet with NASA’s Mars Helicopter exemplifies a successful marriage of science and technology innovation and is a unique opportunity to advance Mars exploration for the future,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA.

The altitude record for a helicopter flying on Earth is about 40,000 feet.

Also Read: NASA Blasts off Mars Lander, InSight

“The atmosphere of Mars is only one per cent 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,” Aung added.

Once the rover is on the planet’s surface, a suitable location will be found to deploy the helicopter down from the vehicle and place it onto the ground.

The rover then will be driven away from the helicopter to a safe distance from which it will relay commands.

Representational image.
Representational image. Pixabay

After its batteries are charged and a myriad of tests are performed, controllers on Earth will command the Mars Helicopter to take its first autonomous flight into history.

“We don’t have a pilot and Earth will be several light minutes away, so there is no way to joystick this mission in real time,” said Aung.

The full 30-day flight test campaign will include up to five flights of incrementally farther flight distances, up to a few hundred meters, and longer durations as long as 90 seconds, over a period.

On its first flight, the helicopter will make a short vertical climb to 10 feet, where it will hover for about 30 seconds.

Also Read: Trump Administration Cancels NASA Plan to Track Greenhouse Gases

Mars 2020 will launch on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and is expected to reach Mars in February 2021.

The rover will conduct geological assessments of its landing site on Mars, determine the habitability of the environment, search for signs of ancient Martian life, and assess natural resources and hazards for future human explorers. (IANS)

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NASA Launches “Remote Sensing Toolkit To Help Users Search For Data

The "Remote Sensing Toolkit" provides a simple system that quickly identifies relevant sources based on user input, NASA said in a statement on Thursday.

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"Our mission to bring NASA technology down to Earth is expanding with the release of this remote sensing toolkit," Lockney said. Pixabay

NASA has launched an online toolkit to make it easier for users to find, analyse and utilise the most relevant satellite data for their research, business projects or conservation efforts.

The “Remote Sensing Toolkit” provides a simple system that quickly identifies relevant sources based on user input, NASA said in a statement on Thursday.

The toolkit is designed to help users search for data, as well as ready-to-use tools and code to build new tools.

“This new tool makes finding and using NASA satellite data easier than ever before, and we hope it sparks innovation among the entrepreneurial community and leads to further commercialisation of NASA technology and benefits people across the world,” said Daniel Lockney, NASA’s Technology Transfer programme executive.

“Our mission to bring NASA technology down to Earth is expanding with the release of this remote sensing toolkit,” Lockney said.

Through its constellation of Earth observation satellites, NASA collects petabytes of data each year.

NASA
Through its constellation of Earth observation satellites, NASA collects petabytes of data each year. Pixabay

The variety of open source tools created to access, analyse and utilise the data from these satellites is familiar to millions of science users, but accessing and utilising this data remains daunting for many potential commercial users.

For example, NASA’s remote-sensing data and tools are spread out across dozens of sites.

The NASA Technology Transfer programme reviewed more than 50 websites and found that no source provided a comprehensive collection of information or a single access point to begin a search.

This prompted the US space agency to introduce the Remote Sensing Toolkit.

Also Read-NASA Funding Project RAMA To Turn Asteroids Into Spaceships

“Remote Sensing Toolkit will help grow the number of users who put NASA’s free and open data archive to work for people,” said Kevin Murphy of NASA’s Earth Science Division in Washington. (IANS)