NASA plans to launch its Mars Helicopter next summer and land it on Mars in February 2021. It will be the first robot to fly in the Martian environment.

Mars helicopter is getting closer to final approval for launch after passing several key tests.

The little chopper will launch next summer with the Mars 2020 rover, reaching the red planet in February 2021.

According to NASA, the 4lb (1.8kg) helicopter will soar above Mars in a series of demonstration tests.

The flying robot will explore places where rovers can’t get to.

“Nobody’s built a Mars helicopter before, so we are continuously entering new territory,” MiMi Aung, project manager for the Mars Helicopter at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said in a statement.

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The rover will look for signs of life on the planet and return samples back to Earth. Meanwhile, the helicopter will give scientists insight into the Martian surface.

The air on Mars is just 1% as dense as that of Earth. For the helicopter, it will be like flying at 100,000 feet, even though initially it will only go 9 feet (3 meters) in the air.

Testings

In January, the Helicopter successfully completed its first flight test inside a massive 25-foot vacuum chamber. Then, engineers moved it to a Lockheed Martin Space facility in Denver, where they tested it for compatibility with the Mars Helicopter Delivery System.

Shortly after the helicopter went back to JPL. There, it underwent a series of simulated tests, including spinning up the rotor blades and installing a new solar panel. However, there are still plenty of further tests ahead.

“We expect to complete our final tests and refinements and deliver the helicopter to the High Bay 1 clean room for integration with the rover sometime this summer,” Aung said, “but we will never really be done with testing the helicopter until we fly at Mars.”

Scientists will also test its imaging capabilities to check its capacity for beaming high-resolution photos of Mars to Earth.

However, the helicopter is just a demonstrator, meaning it has no science instruments on board. Its main purpose is to prove that powered flight in the harsh atmosphere of Mars is possible.

“Future Mars missions could enlist second-generation helicopters to add an aerial dimension to their explorations,’ NASA officials wrote in the statement.

“They could investigate previously unvisited or difficult-to-reach destinations such as cliffs, caves and deep craters, act as scouts for human crews or carry small payloads from one location to another. But before any of that happens, a test vehicle has to prove it is possible.”

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