Launching in 2020 on the belly of NASA’s next Mars Rover, this small rotorcraft will be an autonomous asset from above the Red Planet, taking photos of the landscape and scouting for its rover. The pair are scheduled to arrive on Mars in February 2021. From JPL:

Started in August 2013 as a technology development project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Mars Helicopter had to prove that big things could come in small packages. The result of the team’s four years of design, testing and redesign weighs in at little under four pounds (1.8 kilograms). Its fuselage is about the size of a softball, and its twin, counter-rotating blades will bite into the thin Martian atmosphere at almost 3,000 rpm — about 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth…

The helicopter also 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 altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is about 40,000 feet. The atmosphere of Mars is only one percent that of Earth, so when our helicopter is on the Martian surface, it’s already at the Earth equivalent of 100,000 feet up,” said Mimi Aung, Mars Helicopter project manager at JPL. “To make it fly at that low atmospheric density, we had to scrutinize everything, make it as light as possible while being as strong and as powerful as it can possibly be.”

Learn more about the specially-designed rotorcraft at NASA.gov.

Next: A Fictive Flight Above Real Mars, Testing a Space Rover Under Alaskan Ice, Challenges of Getting to Mars: Curiosity’s Seven Minutes of Terror, Exploring Space with Shape-Shifting Robots, and more videos about Mars.

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