While NASA’s rovers have provided a wealth of information about the history and composition of Mars over the years, they can only see so much through their onboard cameras.
Images taken from spacecraft orbiting Mars help scientists direct the rovers to areas worth studying, but they could be so much more efficient if they had a little help from a low-flying scout that could see over the terrain.
That’s where the Mars Helicopter comes in, according to a NASA news release. This proposed-add on to future Mars rovers would fly ahead of them almost every day, scouting out points of interest and helping the engineers back on Earth plan the best driving route. These scouts could triple the distance a rover can cover, while offering a new level of information researchers can use to determine which sites to explore.
But that’s not where the benefits end. Scientists can also study the helicopter images to find features that are worthy of further study, according to the release. The scout would also help locate the best places for the rover to collect key samples and rocks for cache, items a next generation rover can pick up.
The current design is a proof-of-concept technology demonstration that has been tested at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Scientists envision the helicopter to be 3.6 feet from the tip of one blade to another and to weigh 2.2 pounds.
Want to learn more? Check out this short video from NASA.