If you tell someone that the Mars 2020 mission of NASA will see astronomers using an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer to determine the fine scale elemental composition of materials on the red planet’s surface, you will most likely be greeted with an absolutely blank look. However, if you tell that person that the mission will be equipped with a helicopter drone which will be flying over the planet and capture aerial photos, he or she will surely tell you that it’s a pretty cool idea.
One question that must be bothering you now is: with Mars’ not-so-vast atmosphere, will the rotors of the helicopter get enough air for pushing against. Matthew Golombek of NASA said “yes”. According to him, although the red planet’s atmosphere is remarkably thin, it’s big enough to allow rotors or wings to function properly. Golombek further informed that tests conducted in a chamber which simulates the planet’s atmosphere have proved that the Martian atmosphere is compatible with wings and rotors.
Golombek is currently working at the Pasadena, California-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA. Being a dedicated scientist, he has made it clear that he is not looking to use a helicopter drone during the Mars mission of 2020 in an attempt to be cool; he is looking to do so absolutely for scientific reasons.
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Golombek informed that the rover needs to spend a lot of time wandering around in search of interesting stuff that requires analyses and said that he wants to have a helicopter drone on board to do the job of wandering and spotting exciting stuff beforehand. This will allow the rover to know where exactly it will need to go in advance and thereby save a fair amount of time.
Golombek has picked a pretty simple model of helicopter drone for this project. It comes equipped with a couple of 3 ft-long rotor blades, which rotate in opposite directions for stability. Just beneath the rotors, there are two boxes with all the electronics of the drone embedded in them. The helicopter drone also boasts a solar panel for charging its batteries. Finally, on its outside, there’s small mounted camera for taking pictures.