Drones on Mars

Thanks to large scale technological developments, the universe has become less of a mystery. Outer space missions have brought the knowledge that there are signs of life and civilization in neighboring planets and celestial structures outside of our solar system. In this century, it is normal to find drones in the outer space. These drones were commissioned by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to gather more data on target planets and heavenly bodies. Though NASA had previously used drones for Earth-related missions, there are yet to be drones on Mars and other planets.

Unmanned aerospace vehicles

Do you ever wonder what type of drones NASA intends to use for their ambitious Mars exploration in 2020? Unlike previous outer space drones like the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle built by Boeing, those in Mars will take on a different form. Last year, NASA announced its plan to build and test a helicopter drone to accompany their Mars 2020 rover mission. The plan came in the wake of the successful Curiosity rover mission.

The 2020 rover mission will pick up where the Curiosity mission left off. The basic goal is the same, but NASA aims to launch a more improved rover with an accompanying helicopter drone. The Mars copter is still in its testing stage. NASA JPL engineers are working on a design suitable to Mars’ atmosphere.

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The reason why there are yet to be drones on Mars is that rovers are already tried-and-tested and made from sturdier materials. They are also more adaptable to Mars’ thin aerospace. A flying drone, on one hand, is not as resilient and any damage it might sustain in the course of the mission will be impossible to repair from such a distance. For the 2020 mission, NASA engineers have decided on a helicopter drone because it has smaller propellers. Since Mars only has 38 percent of the earth’s gravity, the small propellers can generate enough lift by pushing down air.

The Mars copter weighs 1 kilogram, significantly lighter than the 900 kilogram Curiosity rover. Its body size is slightly smaller than a 10-inch netbook. The copter’s propeller blades extend beyond 1 meter from end to end and are capable of spinning 3400 times in a minute. When JPL engineers came up with the design, they took into consideration the thin Martian atmosphere; hence, the drone’s light body and large yet super-fast propellers.

With preprogrammed instructions, the copter should be able to fly on its own and at the same time, remain stable throughout the mission. Martian temperature tends to drop lower than 100 degrees Fahrenheit at night, so the drone’s body ought to be built from materials that can withstand harsh climates. On the brighter side, the Mars drone copter has solar cells capable of heating its body at night and storing enough energy to power a few more flights. The copter also comes with wide-angle cameras.

If the Mars copter succeeds, it will set the stage for more drones on Mars. The copter will help the rover cover more ground, paving the way for more accurate data and knowledge.