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article imageNASA prepares tiny chopper for Mars flight

By Tim Sandle     Sep 1, 2019 in Science
A future mission to Mars will require more than just rovers, according to NASA's assessment. A Mars mission will require craft that are capable of flying so that wider surface imaging can be conducted.
Scientists are preparing the next Mars mission are working on a rover that can also function as a chopper. This mini-helicopter is expected to for part of the 2020 mission. This mission has a launch window between July 17 - August 5, 2020, blasting off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, and with an expected Mars landing date of February 18, 2021, touching down on the Jezero Crater. This is a 50 kilometer-wide depression on a Martian surface. This crater is thought to have once been flooded with water, and it contains a fan-delta deposit rich in clay.
If the design holds up, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, and the chopper is incorporated into the launch payload, this will be the aircraft ever deployed on another world. The chopper will be part of a new rover, based on the previous Martian surface device called Curiosity (which roams the Gale Crater, after landing during 2012).
The aim is for the new rover to place the chopper, dubbed 'Scout', in a safe location on landing. The main aim of the craft will be to take images of the Martian topography (especially investigating difficult-to-reach destinations such as cliffs, caves and deep craters). If successful, the BBC reports, small helicopters could become a regular feature of future Martian missions (and any other planets or planetoids that NASA elects to visit - most likely Jupiter's moon Titan). This is not yet certain, the copter is considered to be a high-risk, high-reward technology demonstration.
Commenting on the new copter, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said: "NASA has a proud history of firsts. 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."
The focus of the next mission to Mars will be to assess whether there ever has been (or perhaps is?) life on Mars. For this the new rover will be equipped with a new array of scientific instruments, hoping to assess new data that other rovers have been unable to assess.
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