Mars Helicopter attached to Perseverance Rover ahead of launch

As the launch date for NASA’s mission to Mars approaches, the final touches are being added to the Perseverance rover and the Mars Helicopter which will explore the planet. Now, the helicopter has been attached to the belly of the rover where it will stay protected during the landing.

The Mars Helicopter, visible in the lower center of the image, was attached to the belly of NASA’s Perseverance rover at Kennedy Space Center on April 6, 2020. NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Mars Helicopter recently went through one of its final stages of testing, in which its blades were spun at a low speed of 50 revolutions per minute. Once it arrives on Mars, the helicopter will spin its blades at a massive 2,500 revolutions per minute to lift it into the planet’s thin atmosphere, where hopefully it can be used for gathering mapping data and locating research sites.

The tiny helicopter will be the first-ever heavier-than-air vehicle to fly on another planet, and it will act as a test for future planning. The helicopter won’t be performing any essential science functions for this mission, as the engineers just want to test whether the concept is feasible. If it works, future missions could have helicopters carrying scientific payloads that can access areas that are difficult or impossible to reach by rover.

The Mars Helicopter and its Mars Helicopter Delivery System were attached to the Perseverance Mars rover at Kennedy Space Center on April 6, 2020. The helicopter will be deployed about two-and-a-half months after Perseverance lands. NASA/JPL-Caltech

The descent stage, or sky crane, which will help slow the rover’s descent so it can achieve a “soft landing” wheels-down on Mars, has also been fueled with 884 pounds of hydrazine monopropellant added to its four fuel tanks.

“The last hundred days before any Mars launch is chock-full of significant milestones,” David Gruel, the Mars 2020 assembly, test and launch operations manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, said in a statement. “Fueling the descent stage is a big step. While we will continue to test and evaluate its performance as we move forward with launch preparations, it is now ready to fulfill its mission of placing Perseverance on the surface on Mars.”

The launch window for the Mars 2020 mission is set to run from July to August this year.

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