NASA's Mars Helicopter completes final flight testing

Shawn Knight

Posts: 14,248   +159
Staff member
Something to look forward to: The Mars Helicopter will launch alongside the Mars 2020 rover on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in July 2020. It is expected to reach Mars in February 2021.

Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, have completed flight testing the Mars Helicopter, an unmanned aerial vehicle designed to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on Mars.

Testing of the flight model (the actual vehicle that’ll be sent to Mars) involved subjecting the four pound craft to extreme temperatures, a thin atmosphere and reduced gravity. Temperatures on the Red Planet can reach minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius) at night.

MiMi Aung, project manager for the Mars Helicopter at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the Martian atmosphere is only about one percent the density of Earth’s. To recreate that environment, the team turned to JPL’s Space Simulator, a 25-foot-wide vacuum chamber that sucked out all of the nitrogen, oxygen and other gases from the air and replaced it with carbon dioxide, the main ingredient in Mars’ atmosphere.

The scientists also utilized a gravity offload system – a lanyard attached to the top of the helicopter that tugs against it – to simulate the reduced gravity the craft will experience on Mars.

The team was able to complete two successful test flights, hovering the craft at an altitude of about two inches for a total of one minute.

Teddy Tzanetos, test conductor for the Mars Helicopter at JPL, said, “The gravity offload system performed perfectly, just like our helicopter. We only required a 2-inch (5-centimeter) hover to obtain all the data sets needed to confirm that our Mars helicopter flies autonomously as designed in a thin Mars-like atmosphere; there was no need to go higher. It was a heck of a first flight.”

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VitalyT

Posts: 6,286   +6,872
Eh, since air-propulsion systems are so inefficient in thin-air environment, isn't it time to engineer something jettison-based? If anybody's got the money and the brains to pull it off - NASA would be at the top of the list.
 

Uncle Al

Posts: 8,939   +7,908
I am surprised they didn't take it to PlumBrook station in Ohio and fly it in that reduced atmosphere where it could reach an altitude of 30+ feet, just to insure that it could gain that altitude and maintain it. While the reactors are long gone, it has a viable vacuum chamber they can also introduce liquid nitrogen to perfectly simulate the cold, dark, vacuum of space which can be adjusted to a Mars like environment......
 

VitalyT

Posts: 6,286   +6,872
I am surprised they didn't take it to PlumBrook station in Ohio and fly it in that reduced atmosphere where it could reach an altitude of 30+ feet, just to insure that it could gain that altitude and maintain it. While the reactors are long gone, it has a viable vacuum chamber they can also introduce liquid nitrogen to perfectly simulate the cold, dark, vacuum of space which can be adjusted to a Mars like environment......
You can see them make adjustments, and they all leave the chamber before the test. They just do not show the slow process of pumping the air out of the chamber. There is no natural environment on earth to properly simulate Martian atmosphere.
 

Kibaruk

Posts: 3,836   +1,187
So cool!
"The Mars Helicopter" also known as an everyday drone back here on Earth...
Also known as an autonomous vehicle that can fly in a completely different atmosphere setting... I really can't see how it's like an everyday earth drone...
You can see them make adjustments, and they all leave the chamber before the test. They just do not show the slow process of pumping the air out of the chamber. There is no natural environment on earth to properly simulate Martian atmosphere.
If there is something that's really a waste of time is replying to someone who doesn't read anything.
 

QuantumPhysics

Posts: 6,308   +7,248
Eh, since air-propulsion systems are so inefficient in thin-air environment, isn't it time to engineer something jettison-based? If anybody's got the money and the brains to pull it off - NASA would be at the top of the list.


Mars' atmosphere may be thinner, but its gravity is also lower.

Earth is 9.8m/s^2 but Mars is 3.8 m/s^2

Earth atmosphere is 14.7 psi. Mars is 0.087, but it's still there.

That means that it will take less force to lift a helicopter on Mars than it will to lift it on Earth.
Although the blades will be larger and may be spinning at higher RPM.

The same would go for a jet engine.

It would be like flying a jet at the highest possible altitude.
 

wiyosaya

Posts: 7,835   +6,821
Eh, since air-propulsion systems are so inefficient in thin-air environment, isn't it time to engineer something jettison-based? If anybody's got the money and the brains to pull it off - NASA would be at the top of the list.
Maybe I am misreading your intent, however, since jettison implies to throw or drop something from an aircraft, what ever it is that would jettison this would need to be in the air - implying some form of air-propulsion or fueled propulsion. As I see it, that folds back on questioning the design since the jettisoning craft would need to be in the air via some means.

Fuel's drawback is that it would be extra launch (from the Earth, that is) weight and would run out eventually.

I bet they optimized propeller size for conditions on Mars.

One other thing that (I think) works in favor of air-propulsion on Mars is the fact that CO2 has a density that is about 60% greater than air on Earth. I am not an aeronautical engineer (though this is likely more of a fluid dynamics problem). Assuming I don't have my head where the sun don't shine ;), this would mean more lift in a CO2 dense atmosphere than in an atmosphere where CO2 is less dense.
 
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VitalyT

Posts: 6,286   +6,872
Maybe I am misreading your intent, however, since jettison implies to throw or drop something from an aircraft, what ever it is that would jettison this would need to be in the air - implying some form of air-propulsion or fueled propulsion. As I see it, that folds back on questioning the design since the jettisoning craft would need to be in the air via some means.

Fuel's drawback is that it would be extra launch (from the Earth, that is) weight and would run out eventually.

I bet they optimized propeller size for conditions on Mars.

One other thing that (I think) works in favor of air-propulsion on Mars is the fact that CO2 has a density that is about 60% greater than air on Earth. I am not an aeronautical engineer (thought this is likely more of a fluid dynamics problem). Assuming I don't have my head where the sun don't shine ;), this would mean more lift in a CO2 dense atmosphere than in an atmosphere where CO2 is less dense.

I've seen many attempts at creating jettison engines on pure energy, I.e. without requiring any fuel, and that's what I had in mind. But it would seem that none of them came to fruition as of today, sadly.
 

VitalyT

Posts: 6,286   +6,872
Mars' atmosphere may be thinner, but its gravity is also lower.
Secondary-school level physics: When there is no air, all objects have equal acceleration toward the center of gravity. And while all air-propulsion systems depend directly on the air density, their efficiency is heading toward zero as the atmosphere thins out. Think about placing a helicopter on the moon: Tiny gravity won't help it there at all, the thing will be 100% unusable.
 

wiyosaya

Posts: 7,835   +6,821
I've seen many attempts at creating jettison engines on pure energy, I.e. without requiring any fuel, and that's what I had in mind. But it would seem that none of them came to fruition as of today, sadly.
I guess I am not getting how such an engine would apply to this craft. :confused:
 

Kibaruk

Posts: 3,836   +1,187
Let's leave the science part to the NASA team... they might know what they are doing.