31st January 2015
Helicopter drone could assist Mars rovers
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has proposed a Mars helicopter drone that could scout ahead of rovers and provide operators with a much better view of the surrounding Martian terrain.
Getting around on Mars is tricky business. Each NASA rover has delivered a wealth of information about the history and composition of the Red Planet, but a rover's vision is limited by the view of its on-board cameras, and images from spacecraft orbiting Mars are the only other clues to where to drive it. To have a better sense of where to go and what's worth studying, it could be useful to have a low-flying scout.
Enter the Mars Helicopter, a proposed add-on to Mars rovers of the future that could potentially triple the distance these vehicles currently drive in a Martian day, and deliver a new level of visual information for choosing which sites to explore. This drone would fly ahead of the rover almost every day, checking out various points of interest and helping engineers back on Earth plan the best possible driving route.
Scientists could also use the helicopter images to look for features for the rover to study in further detail. Another part of the drone's job would be to check out the best places for the rover to collect key samples and rocks for a cache, which a next-generation rover could pick up later.
The vehicle is envisioned to weigh 2.2 pounds (1 kg) and measure 3.6 feet (1.1 m) across from the tip of one blade to the other. The prototype body looks like a medium-size cubic tissue box. The current design is a proof-of-concept demonstration that has been tested at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.