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Mars's NASA helicopter passes a critical flight test



NASA engineers inspected the Mars helicopter.
Photo: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Six wheels on Mars are great, but imagine a helicopter flying through the thin Martian air. Getting out of place, the ship will give us a bird's eye view of the Red Planet. To test this idea, NASA will send a plane with rotating wings to Mars and, as demonstrated by recent flight tests, this small helicopter is officially ready for the first time.

The Atlas V missile will emerge from the Cape Canaveral Air Force in Florida on the road to Mars. Mars 2020 will appear on board, but a small helicopter with four pounds will appear in his belly. Once on Mars and at altitude, this plane will become the first to fly over the surface of a foreign world.

Engineers from the Mars Helicopter project at JPL in Pasadena, California have reached an important stage in the development of a helicopter model undergoing critical flight tests, according to NASA. The small helicopter achieved a controlled and sustained flight in simulated Martian conditions – a good sign that it would present itself to the Red Planet as expected.

"The next time we fly, we fly on Mars."

For this first flight on Mars, we recorded over 75 minutes of flight time with an engineering model that was close to our helicopter, "said Project Manager Mimi Aung in NASA's press release. "But this recent model flight test was the real deal. This is our Mars helicopter. We had to see that it worked as advertised. "

The Mars 2020 helicopter and Marshall are expected to land on the Red Planet in February 2021. The plane will not be deployed immediately, with NASA saying the first flight should be" A Few Months "on the mission. Once deployed and ready to go out, the helicopter will be placed on a series of flight tests, no more than 90 seconds.

Demo vehicle used in flight tests.
Photo: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Mars's helicopter is quite barreboat with several bells and whistles. NASA describes it as a "technology demonstrator" – a test of the real world (or the real world) of the system. The results of the test will be used to inform about the development of more sophisticated aircraft designed for Mars. For example, a helicopter with a camera. Which would be so cool.

Indeed, building a helicopter for Mars is a major technological challenge. The device must be able to withstand the extreme temperature fluctuations on Mars, including the night when the temperature drops below minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius). Each of the 1500 different components of the vessel, consisting of aluminum, silicon, carbon, foil and foam, will have to withstand contractions and extensions due to dramatically changing environmental conditions.

Picture: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Flight capacity depends on the presence of an environment that provides the necessary lift. Earthly atmosphere is quite thick, but the same can not be said for Mars, where the atmosphere is super thin – just one percent of what is here on Earth. To be honest, such conditions exist on Earth, but at a height of 100,000 feet (30,480 meters). Not wanting to test their small helicopter at such a high altitude, NASA engineers recreated these conditions in the JPL Space Simulator. In preparation for the flight test all gases were sucked out of the 25-foot vacuum chamber and replaced with carbon dioxide, making it just like Mars. Luckily, the helicopter could still get out of the ground for about a minute, reaching a modest height of two inches. Another problem with Mars is its low gravity, which is approximately 38% of Earth's gravity. On Mars, the four-kilometer helicopter will be closer to 1.5 kilograms, which drastically changes the flight profile. Simulating this low gravity was a much greater challenge, but NASA did it using a "gravity unloading system".

The gravity unloading system has performed perfectly, just like our helicopter, "says Teddy Canetes, JPL's Mars helicopter test wire. "To get all the data needed to confirm that our Mars helicopter flew independently, as designed in a thin atmosphere on Mars, we only required a 2-inch (5-inch) swing. he did not need to get higher.

So with 75 minutes of test flight in the books and a helicopter looking ready for the rigor of Mars, this stage in the certification process is complete.

The next time we fly, we fly on Mars, "Aun said. "Looking at the helicopter through his steps in the hall, I could not help thinking about the historical vehicles that were there in the past. The House hosted missions from the Ranger Moon probes to Voyagers next to Cassini, and every Mars rover ever flew. To see our helicopter there, reminded me that we are about to make a little piece of space story. "

There is no doubt that this small helicopter may be the beginning of something big, which will give us a whole new way. exploring the surface of another world.

[ NASA]


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