WASHINGTON, May 11 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is planning to send a helicopter to Mars in July 2020 to get a bird's-eye-view of the Red Planet, the agency said Friday.
According to NASA, the upcoming Mars 2020 rover, a small autonomous chopper, will fly through Martian air to see if it can levitate on the planet, where the atmosphere is 100 times thinner than that of Earth.
"Exploring the Red Planet with NASA's Mars Helicopter exemplifies a successful marriage of science and technology innovation and is a unique opportunity to advance Mars exploration for the future," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency headquarters here.
NASA said that the helicopter, after over four years of design, contains built-in capabilities needed for operation at Mars, including solar cells to charge its lithium-ion batteries and a heating mechanism to keep it warm through the cold Martian nights.
The Mars 2020 mission is considered a high-risk, high-reward project. The space agency needs to determine if the technology is actually feasible and if the agency has enough money in its budget for the copter, local media reported.
Should the mission succeed, helicopters may have a real future as low-flying scouts and aerial vehicles to access locations not reachable by ground travel, according to NASA.