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The small helicopter that will fly autonomously as part of the Mars 2020 rover mission has successfully completed its first test flights here on Earth.
“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,” [said Teddy Tzanetos, test conductor for the Mars Helicopter at JPL.]
The Mars Helicopter’s first flight was followed up by a second in the vacuum chamber the following day. Logging a grand total of one minute of flight time at an altitude of 2 inches (5 centimeters), more than 1,500 individual pieces of carbon fiber, flight-grade aluminum, silicon, copper, foil and foam have proven that they can work together as a cohesive unit.
This helicopter drone is a technology experiment, more focused on testing helicopter flying on Mars that doing science. If it proves to work, it will open up a whole new unmanned option for exploring the Martian surface. Imagine a helicopter that takes short hops from point to point. It will be able to reach locations a rover never could, and do it faster.