NASA engineers have equipped the rover that will leave next year for Mars with a small autonomous helicopter.
The aircraft, whose presence had been theorized in May 2018, will be able to detach itself from the Martian rover and travel on its own, traveling and exploring the surface of the red planet.
Now there is room for optimization until the July 2020 deadline: only a few checks will be needed. Among these, the ability of the small aircraft to remain in place even after the many vibrations to which the rover will be subjected during the launch phase.
Do you want to go for a ride?
On the other hand, the mini autonomous helicopter has already passed a lot of tests, showing excellent resistance to the (simulated) stresses of the atmosphere of Mars.
And then even once there he will be able to work without too much psychological pressure: his role will be largely experimental, it will serve to prepare the ground for his successors.
It is true that at the time of the first announcement that called him into question, the autonomous helicopter in the intentions of NASA should have done more things. First of all, to scan and map the Martian territory explored, and in the alternative, to hunt for signals to connect to the existence of life (present or past).
The priorities are priorities, however, and a budget-conscious NASA (I use an understatement) like today he wisely preferred to gliss. The limited use of the drone creates the conditions for more efficient future missions, leaving it the role of gym.
"The task we have set ourselves is to prove that autonomous and controlled flight can be performed even in the rarefied Martian atmosphere," says the project leader MiMi Aung in a press release issued by NASA.
“Having conceived our helicopter as an experimenting technology with the sole task of testing flight, it will not be unnecessarily loaded with scientific instruments. If it does its job well, flying drones will play a fundamental role in the future exploration of the red planet, much more than the Martian rover ”.MiMi Aung, NASA project leader