Soon, autonomous helicopter drone for Martian exploration

Washington: NASA has revealed that it is working on a small helicopter that could fly ahead of future Mars rovers to improve surveillance and navigation abilities on the alien planet.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has proposed the idea of Mars Helicopter, an autonomous drone that could triple the distances that Mars rovers can drive in a Martian day, as the alien surface is uneven, and ridges and valleys make navigating the terrain difficult, the Verge reported.

The rover teams could also use images from the helicopter to select features for further study, giving them a much closer option than the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and its HiRISE camera, which is over 150 miles above the surface.

Prototype versions of the Mars Helicopter are being tested now and the idea is proposed as an “add-on” to future rover missions, so even if it gets approved it won’t be flying any time soon.

Compared to Earth, Mars has a much thinner atmosphere and much weaker gravity, suggesting that a drone also must be engineered to be rugged enough to withstand Martian conditions while remaining light enough to fly.