Mars Chopper: China develops miniature prototype helicopter for future missions

China has developed a prototype miniature helicopter for surveillance work on future missions to Mars, according to its space science agency, after the historic landing of a robotic rover on the Red Planet a few months ago.

The prototype is similar in appearance to the Ingenuity robotic helicopter, developed by NASA for its Perseverance mission this year, according to a photograph posted on the website of China’s National Space Science Center on Wednesday.

The agency said the helicopter could be a tool for China’s subsequent exploration of Mars, but it gave no details.

China landed a Mars rover in May on its first mission to the planet, becoming the second country after the United States to do so. NASA’s most advanced rover, the Perseverance, landed on the planet in February.

From NASA’s rover, Ingenuity made its maiden flight in April, soaring about 3 meters (10 feet) above the surface, in humanity’s first successful deployment of a powered aircraft in a world other than Earth.

The challenge for the 1.8 kg (4 lb) Ingenuity is the planet’s thin atmosphere, which is only 1 percent denser than Earth’s.

To compensate for the lack of aerodynamic lift, NASA engineers equipped Ingenuity with larger rotor blades – 1.2 meters (4 ft) end-to-end – and they spin faster than would be necessary on Earth for an aircraft of its size.

Like the Ingenuity, the Chinese prototype features two rotor blades, a sensor and camera base, and four slender legs. But there is no solar panel at the top like the Ingenuity, according to the photo.

Ingenuity has made more than 10 departures since April, covering a total distance of over 2 km (1.2 miles) with a flying time of around 20 minutes in total.

China is planning its first manned mission to Mars in 2033.

© Thomson Reuters 2021


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