Humans may soon set foot on Mars but before they do, this compact little copter could help us learn more about the red planet in less time.

It’s ambitious, lightweight and relativity low in cost. The sun powers it and it could optimize the exploration experience for rovers sent to Mars.

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The aptly named Mars Helicopter, or “Mars rotocraft” as project engineer Larry Young first described it, is a pretty exciting project in the works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where a team is aiming to build a working unit before the next Mars Rover is set to launch in 2020.

Helping Rovers Do Their Jobs
The Mars Helicopter won’t do the really big red planet exploring. That job will still belong to rovers like the Curiosity, Spirit and Opportunity. However, the Mars Helicopter will potentially make rover exploration a safer, smoother, and more efficient operation.

By autonomously scouting the area for possible rover routes just a few feet above the planet’s surface, the Mars Helicopter will help future rovers avoid rough terrain and other perils. NASA’s JPL also reports that the tiny helicopter could triple the distance a rover could travel in a single Martian day.

A Much Closer Picture Of The Red Planet
This development could give us an even greater understanding of the surface of Mars and make it easier for scientists to determine the most worthwhile area for rovers to roam.

Currently, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is tool we use to gather that information, but taking pictures from 150 miles from the potential exploration site still leaves a lot questions and opens a lot of risks. The Mars Helicopter may mitigate those risks, and may even be scaled up for applications that go beyond surveillance.

Paving The Way For Mars One?
This news comes with a much-publicized call for a Mars One crew. Individuals willing to take a one-way trip to Mars may get their chance to make unprecedented history in space exploration.

While some have now questioned the legitimacy of the upcoming mission and its, as some say, overly ambitious undertaking, there have been no shortage of signups. The technology that will take the chosen crew, however, hasn’t been as ready to launch.

Will 2020 Mark The Mars Decade?
If the Mars Helicopter and rover land as planned in 2020, it could launch a decade of some pretty remarkable Mars exploration. Surface preparations and cargo missions are set to begin in 2022 and the first crew could set out to the red planet as early as 2025.


Helping Us Look Before We Launch
Whether or not the first human foot will land on the sandy surface of Mars in just ten short years is something we’ll soon find out, but odds of getting there with a better understanding of the planet itself may be seriously improved thanks to a 2.2 pound, solar powered, tissue boxed sized little drone.

Are you eager to see the Mars Helicopter take flight over the next three to five years?

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