How does a NASA helicopter fly on Mars?


 

NASA has postponed the first flight of an Ingenuity helicopter on Mars until Wednesday, April 14th, but the more important question is how can this helicopter fly on the Red Planet in its first attempt to fly on a planet other than Earth? This 4-pound (1.8 kg) helicopter landed on Mars with the Agency's persistent rover on February 18th.


The helicopter is preparing to make the first-ever flights powered and controlled in an extraterrestrial world.


That first flight will be low and brief, with members of the mission team saying that the solar-powered Mars helicopter is expected to not rise above 10 feet (3 meters) above the surface of Mars, Jezero Crater, and to remain elevated for 40 seconds or so.


But even making such a modest leap would be an achievement, given that the Martian atmosphere is only 1% thick as Earth's at sea level.


Helicopters generate lift by pushing air, and on Mars, there are basically fewer particles for propulsion, and this disadvantage outweighs the benefits that aircraft get from the weaker gravitational force of Mars, which is 38% of the drag that we feel on the surface of the Earth. The helicopter has to do things a little differently than its counterparts on the ground.


The carbon-fiber blades for Mars helicopters are exceptionally large, compared to their 19 inches (48 cm) body, and the blades are arranged in two rotors that extend 4 feet (1.2 meters) from end to end.


And these rotors will spin at 2,500 revolutions per minute ( RPM ) to take the helicopter off the surface much faster than is required for 4 pounds on the ground.

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