Last week at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA wrapped up what it says was ‘important testing’ involving the small helicopter that will be shipped with its Perseverance Mars rover next year. This was the last time the helicopter’s rotor blades will spin until the vehicle arrives on the Martian surface, where NASA hopes to operate the first-ever aircraft on a planet other than Earth.
NASA has put multiple rovers on Mars, some of which are still operational, but it hasn’t yet put an aircraft on the Red Planet. That will change with its Perseverance rover mission, which is scheduled to arrive at Mars on February 18, 2021, following a launch this summer. The mission aims to find evidence of past life on Mars — the microbial variety — among other things.
NASA first attached the Mars Helicopter to the Perseverance rover in late August 2019. The aircraft is attached to the rover’s belly; it features twin rotors and solar panels for power. In its initial announcement about the helicopter, NASA described its aircraft as ‘high-risk, high-reward technology,’ explaining that even if the helicopter fails to work as expected, it won’t impact the mission’s scientific efforts.
The helicopter is protected on the rover’s belly using a shield cover; it will only be deployed on Mars once the right location has been found for deployment. NASA plans to conduct its test flights in the Jezero Crater on Mars, which is where Perseverance rover will ultimately reside.
Late last week, the space agency said that it conducted a function test of the helicopter at 50rpm while it was on its stand in the airlock. That test was joined by ‘activities’ intended to measure the mass properties of the mission’s Cruise Stage vehicle, according to the space agency, something that involved the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility.