The Mars Helicopter and the Mars 2020 rover will be carried into space by a United Launch Alliance Atlas V, scheduled to take off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The small, autonomous aircraft will be blasted into space with the U.S. Space Agency's Mars Rover in July 2020, a spokesman said. Scientists want to test how "heavier-than-air vehicles" will operate on the red planet, Nasa said in a release.
The Mars Helicopter, which will no doubt undergo a name change when NASA sets up a contest for school children, will be a technology demonstrator to determine how aerial drones will fly on the Red Planet. It will also have to be completely autonomous because commands take a long time to reach Mars from Earth.
What will the Mars Helicopter do?
Engineers built the copter's twin, counter-rotating blades to "bite into the thin Martian atmosphere at nearly 3,000 rpm - about 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth", said a NASA statement.More news: Google celebrates Mother's Day 2018 with a doodle
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NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has been developing the helicopter since 2013, and eventually shrunk the fuselage to around the size of a softball to help make the drone viable. "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", explained Mimi Aung, Mars Helicopter project manager at JPL.
The helicopter is meant to show the viability and usefulness of aircraft on Mars, NASA explained, together with potential roles because of low-flying scout or to attain areas inaccessible out of the floor.
"To make it fly at that low atmospheric density, we had to scrutinise everything, make it as light as possible while being as strong and as powerful as it can possibly be", Ms Aung added. Mars is about 20 light minutes away from Earth.
"We're very excited about this and the potential it has for opening up a whole new paradigm for how to explore Mars", said David Lavery, the program executive for solar system exploration at NASA headquarters. The first will go up about 10 feet and hover for 30 seconds. "With the added dimension of a bird's-eye view from a 'marscopter, ' we can only imagine what future missions will achieve".
Opportunity landed on Mars in 2004 and has outlived its original plan for a 90-day mission.