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NASA Mars United States

NASA Will Send Helicopter To Mars To Test Otherworldly Flight (bbc.com) 103

NASA is sending a small, autonomous rotorcraft to Mars via the agency's Mars 2020 rover mission, currently scheduled to launch in July 2020. NASA says the goal of the mission is to "demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet." BBC reports: Its design team spent more than four years shrinking a working helicopter to "the size of a softball" and cutting its weight to 1.8kg (4lbs). It is specifically designed to fly in the atmosphere of Mars, which is 100 times thinner than Earth's. NASA describes the helicopter as a "heavier-than-air" aircraft because the other type -- sometimes called an aerostat -- refers to aircraft like balloons and blimps. The helicopter's two blades will spin at close to 3,000 revolutions a minute, which NASA says is about 10 times faster than a standard helicopter on Earth.
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NASA Will Send Helicopter To Mars To Test Otherworldly Flight

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  • Wow (Score:1, Interesting)

    by eldrberry ( 37321 )
    They spent 4 years developing something that I walked into a hobby shop and purchased lot more that 4 years ago.
    • The fine summary says it's the size of a softball, which is inches in diameter (9cm). It's also four pounds (1.8kg). A typical hobby shop drone of that size would be maybe 100 grams.

      My hobby shop "heavier than air" vehicle is 100cm and 500 grams. Keep in mind mine is 10x longer, 10x wider, and 10x taller, so it should be about 1000x the weight.

      • That should say "3.5 inches".

        Mine is nearly 10 times that length, and ten times the width,
        so presumably around 10x the height, yet weighs 75% less.

        Apparently they made theirs from solid lead or something.

        • Your hobby shop drone could probably not even withstand the rocket liftoff, never mind the rest of the trip and the landing.

    • Re:Wow (Score:5, Insightful)

      by elrous0 ( 869638 ) on Friday May 11, 2018 @09:56PM (#56599250)

      Is your hobby shop model going to have to survive being launched at 25,000 mph into space, then travel for months in an absolute zero cold vacuum, then be dropped from orbit onto the surface of a frigid cold planet with almost no atmospheric pressure?

      • by elrous0 ( 869638 )

        Oh and I forgot: All the while bathed in intense radiation

      • Re: Wow (Score:5, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 11, 2018 @10:21PM (#56599322)

        No, but if there are trees on Mars mine will find them ... and get subsequently stuck just high enough to not be able to reach.

        • You may have just found a solution to Martian flight: Send a cat with a buttered slice of bread attached to its back! (And hope that Curiosity won't kill it with its laser...)
      • Re:Wow (Score:5, Informative)

        by molarmass192 ( 608071 ) on Saturday May 12, 2018 @12:02AM (#56599538) Homepage Journal
        I know I'm pedantic here, but the near zero Kelvin temps apply to interstellar space, within solar space it's significantly warmer (>150 Kelvin), but you're still going to need to pack a jacket.
    • Re:Wow (Score:4, Funny)

      by cascadingstylesheet ( 140919 ) on Friday May 11, 2018 @10:15PM (#56599304)

      They spent 4 years developing something that I walked into a hobby shop and purchased lot more that 4 years ago.

      I'll call NASA immediately and get this straightened out. Thanks!

    • I love NASA threads for comments like this: I love the displays of angry ignorance form armchair engineers people who have no clue about actual engineering or anything to do with space.

      Yo umight be called an engineer, but writing dubious javascript code doesn't actually make you knowledgable about, well, any of these things as is abundantly clear from your post.

    • They spent 4 years developing something that I walked into a hobby shop and purchased lot more that 4 years ago.

      Does yours fly up to about 60km, where the pressure is comparable to the one on Mars?
      Does it recharge itself in a cloudy day?
      Can it operate in about -100 degrees?
      ...

      Ignorance maybe is a bliss, but it's a danger for the others.

  • 10 times faster than full size helicopter sure, but pretty well standard for a model helicopter of that size. so nothing special to note for the rpm.
  • A rotor doesn't work in a vacuum. It wouldn't even get halfway to Mars.
    • This one is actually a rotating solar sail design... Why have a stationary sail when it can spin?!?!?!?

  • The martian atmosphere is pretty damn thin.
    • The video in the article straightens that all out. TLDR; the body is tiny and the blades are huge, plus they spin really f-ing fast. The big unanswered question to me is, who's gonna pick it up if it falls on it's side!?! Not to knock the work of 2 dozen PhDs who spent 4 years on this, but wouldn't it be "better" to have it dock on the rover where it could recharge (and save the weight of it's own panels) and get safely locked in place, plus maybe cleaned?

      Sincerely,

      A NASA Intern Wannabe
      • ... and yes I stole that idea straight from Blade Runner 2049.
      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        The video in the article straightens that all out. TLDR; the body is tiny and the blades are huge, plus they spin really f-ing fast. The big unanswered question to me is, who's gonna pick it up if it falls on it's side!?! Not to knock the work of 2 dozen PhDs who spent 4 years on this, but wouldn't it be "better" to have it dock on the rover where it could recharge (and save the weight of it's own panels) and get safely locked in place, plus maybe cleaned?

        You see the landing gear? The four balls splayed out

  • I can just imagine all the dust being blown around by this and how long it will take to dissipate.

  • You cannot multiply and get a lower result. You cannot have "the atmosphere of Mars, which is 100 times thinner than Earth's"

    100 times thinner is bullshit. Multiplying anything gives you a higher number, not lower. The way to say it might be "a hundredth as dense as Earth's" or some other creative wording. Not just saying 100 times thinner because it's easy to write.

    Then it goes on to actually to do the math the right way here "The helicopter's two blades will spin at close to 3,000 revolutions a mi

    • You cannot multiply and get a lower result. You cannot have "the atmosphere of Mars, which is 100 times thinner than Earth's"

      You can, if you're doing it in the context of saying that Earth's atmosphere is already thin. Like, "Jupiter's atmosphere is thick, and Earth's is only a hundredth as thick. Mars' atmosphere is a hundred times thinner than that."

      That's the only way that annoying convention makes sense. Foo is Bar, and Alice is even more Bar. It's possible for Foo's Bar to be bigger than Alice's, but it's an awkward way to use that construction. It only makes sense if being "a hundred times thinner" is in relation to som

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Only taking the pressure (which is actually closer to 6hPa if memory serves, instead of ~1000hPa on Earth) is only part of the story. It depends on where they land since the pressure varies between 300hPa to ~1155hPa. I suspect that they will land in a high pressure (low altitude) area.

      Gravity, i.e. the thing you have to fight against, or compensate, is only 1/3 of the Earth's, which helps quite significantly.

      Also Mars atmosphere is mostly composed of CO2, its mean molecular mass is 44 instead of 29 on Eart

    • You cannot multiply and get a lower result.

      While I appreciate your single-minded dedication to the natural numbers, you should probably know that a while back, some people discovered fractional numbers which have the amazing property that if you multiply by one you can get less than the number you started with!

      The world has of course moved on since then (we're well out of the stone age now) and understand them a lot better, bht the basics are the same.

    • Phrases like a hundred times smaller and a hundred times thinner are implicitly implying division.

      a hundred times bigger means multiply by 100
      a hundred times smaller means divide by 100

  • by hcs_$reboot ( 1536101 ) on Saturday May 12, 2018 @12:52AM (#56599630)
    In a few million years, Marsians will wonder if the initial bacteria they came from a few million years ago were brought from outer space.
    • In a few million years, Marsians will wonder if the initial bacteria they came from a few million years ago were brought from outer space.

      But I'll bet they'll appreciate their rotors.

  • How is it going to get there since there's no air for the blades to push against in space. Dumb idea.

  • I just want to know whether its running CleanFlight or Betaflight/Butterflight... presumably not Baseflight after dongie restricted the GPL to prohibit forking by NASA. But seriously, is this running any specific open flight control firmware? Or custom from the ground up?
  • 3000 RPM is 50 RPS So you're saying that helicopter blades only spin round 5 times a second?
  • Seriously, it would be nice to let a number of simple balloons (use hydrogen; not enough O2 to start a fire with) with camera on some and weather instruments on others.
  • by OYAHHH ( 322809 )

    Who us gonna sit it upright after it gets blown over by a sudden burst of wind?

  • Well if it doesn't get there, they could always pretend it did and take photo's of it from a remote arctic island, which looks remarkably like the surface of mars, and pretend that they haven't just wasted billions of dollars on another failed mission. Not A Space Adventure because the is Not A Single Astronaut working for the Nation Academy of Space Actors. Its funny in the old days it was the loonies and conspiracy theist who didn't believe NASA's lies, now the only people who do believe them are the loo

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