For each of these potential dangers NASA has developed ingenious solutions created to keep its rover healthy and able to scour the surface - and in the case of the 2020 rover, the subsurface of Mars - for clues that will help unravel the mysteries still held by the Red Planet. A portion of the testing was to guarantee that the Mars Helicopter could endure the conditions it would experience during an actual rocket launch.
The NASA Mars Helicopter team has now announced that the flight demonstrator project has passed several vital tests with "flying colors".
In January 2019, the flight model flew in a simulated Martian environment at JPL's Space Simulator, which was a 25-foot-wide vacuum chamber injected with carbon-dioxide. The helicopter's sole instrument is a high-resolution camera that, NASA hopes, will capture some lovely shots of the Red Planet and relay them back to Earth. The challenge for powered flight is the very thin Martian atmosphere that has only 1% of the density of Earth's atmosphere.
Should the technology demonstrator be successful, future missions could rely on helicopters to scout potentially unsafe areas such as cliffs or caves, or even to transport small payloads. They could also be used as scouts or to carry objects quickly over long distances.
In Denver, the Mars Helicopter and its delivery system were checked to make sure that the electrical connections and mechanisms that linked the flight vehicle with its cradle fit snuggly. "But it could also let us test a possible solution", said HP Principal Investigator Tilman Spohn of DLR.
"We expect to complete our final tests and refinements and deliver the helicopter to the High Bay 1 clean room for integration with the rover sometime this summer, but we will never really be done with testing the helicopter until we fly at Mars", Aung said. Of course, there's more testing to come. Once the rover is on the surface, it will deploy the helicopter. The helicopter will separate from the rover after landing. Once the Mars 2020 rover arrives at Mars on February 18, 2021, it will not only seek signs of ancient habitable conditions - and past microbial life - but collect rock and soil samples, storing them in sample tubes on the planet's surface. In another first, scientists will use the instruments aboard the rover to identify and collect samples of rock and soil, encase them in sealed tubes, and leave them on the planet's surface for potential return to Earth on a future Mars mission.