NASA announced plans to launch a rover and a rotorcraft called Mars Helicopter to the Red Planet in July 2020. While the rover explores and collects samples on the surface of Mars, the Mars Helicopter will be used to scout surrounding areas and possibly provide access to locations unreachable by ground travel. The rover and Mars helicopter will be launched using an Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and they are estimated to reach the Red Planet by February 2021.
The Mars Helicopter will fly missions autonomously, but the rotorcraft UAV is also designed to interpret and receive commands. The rotorcraft UAV will be used to see beyond hills, increasing exploration efficiency. The Mars Helicopter is considered a “high risk, high-reward project;” even if something goes wrong, the Mars 2020 mission will still continue.
“We don’t have a pilot and Earth will be several light minutes away, so there is no way to joystick this mission in real time,” said Aung, Mars Helicopter project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).