Mars Helicopter Coming to HAI HELI-EXPO

ROTOR Staff 2019 Fall

Cover Photo

This artist’s concept shows the Mars Helicopter, a small, autonomous rotorcraft that will travel with NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission, currently scheduled to launch in July 2020, to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

HAI HELI-EXPO® has long been a platform for the debut of new aircraft and new technology, but a special presentation at the 2020 show in Anaheim is sure to be out of this world.

Through the efforts of NASA and its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the NASA Mars Helicopter is going to make a special appearance at HAI HELI-EXPO in advance of its July 2020 mission to explore Earth’s next-door neighbor. The NASA Mars 2020 mission will carry the one-of-a-kind aircraft, designed specifically for flight in the special conditions posed by the Martian environment.

“Taking Flight with the Mars Helicopter” will take place on Wednesday, Jan. 29, from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm, in Room 204B of the Anaheim Convention Center. There will be time for audience questions at the conclusion of the presentation.

The presentation will feature NASA and JPL representatives as well as a nonworking model of the twin-rotor, solar-powered Mars Helicopter (the actual flight model is already attached to the belly of the Mars 2020 rover as scientists and engineers prepare for next year’s launch). In the first segment of the presentation, representatives from NASA and JPL will discuss the 2020 Mars mission. Many of the mission’s scientific investigations will entail research into the potential for life on Mars.

Another reason for the Mars 2020 mission is to research and test technologies that will support future missions to the planet. Designed for short, exploratory flights, the Mars Helicopter carries no scientific testing equipment. Instead, it serves as a proof-of-concept vehicle, creating opportunities for future generations of ­rotarycraft should this version prove successful.

The Mars Helicopter will operate autonomously, as the time lag for radio signals to travel between Earth and Mars makes direct control impractical. Depending on the two planets’ orbits, a radio signal traveling from one to the other can take anywhere from 3 minutes and 7 seconds to 20 minutes and 25 seconds.

The second part of the presentation will focus on the challenges of designing, developing, and testing an aircraft that will operate in the Martian environment. One of the most significant hurdles the development team faced was designing an aircraft that will fly in the extremely thin atmosphere of Mars.

To create lift and sustain flight at the equivalent of 100,000 feet above ground level on Earth, the team developed a rotor system that turns at over 3,000 rpm. Additionally, the team had to design equipment that would enable Earth-bound flight testing of the Mars Helicopter that mirrored Martian conditions.

As with many of the scientific advances introduced through the space program, the technology developed for the Mars Helicopter could one day be introduced into the commercial helicopter sector. You should attend this presentation so that you can one day say, “I saw that way back when.”

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