A ‘Wright Brothers’ moment on Mars
An alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology Bob Balaram has created a space chopper that will fly over the Martian skies.
The Mars Helicopter created by him will ride to Mars this summer with NASA’s Perseverance rover. It is currently at Kennedy Space Center waiting to hitch a ride to the Red Planet this summer.
Balaram described the construction of the chopper as a perfectly blank canvas, but with restrictions. According to him, his physics background helped him envision flying on Mars, a planet with an atmosphere that is only 1 percent as dense as Earth’s.
He compared it to flying on Earth at a 1,00,000-foot (30,500-meter) altitude — about seven times higher than a typical terrestrial helicopter can fly. Another challenge was that the chopper could carry only a few kilograms, including the weight of batteries and a radio for communications.
The end result was a four-pound (1.8-kilogram) helicopter with two pairs of light counter-rotating blades — an upper and lower pair, to slice through the Martian atmosphere. Each pair of blades spans four feet (1.2 meters) in diameter.
About two-and-a-half months after landing at Jezero Crater, the Mars Helicopter team will have a window of about 30 days to perform a technology demonstration in the actual environment of the planet, starting with a series of vehicle checkouts, followed by attempts of first-ever flights in the very thin Martian atmosphere.
Mars is home to the highest mountain in our solar system –– a volcano called Olympus Mons. Standing a whopping 24 kilometres high, it’s about three times the height of Mount Everest!