A new Mars Sample Recovery Helicopter is in the works by NASA’s team of scientists and engineers. The successful flights of the Ingenuity Mars helicopter have inspired NASA to incorporate new innovations into this upcoming helicopter, which is set to debut a host of new features.
The Mars Sample Recovery Helicopter is being developed as part of a potential joint Mars Sample Return campaign with the European Space Agency. This campaign would transport regolith and Martian rock samples back to Earth, leveraging NASA’s Perseverance rover and two Mars Sample Recovery Helicopters.
While the Perseverance rover has already demonstrated its payload transportation capabilities by delivering sample tubes to a designated drop-off zone on the Red Planet’s surface, the Mars Sample Recovery Helicopters will be responsible for picking up these sample tubes and transferring them to a waiting rocket to launch into Martian orbit.
However, the main challenge in developing these helicopters is the limited amount of mass that can be carried due to Mars’ thin atmosphere. According to Håvard Fjær Grip, chief engineer of autonomy and aerial flight at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “The primary challenge here is mass. We have very little air to work with on Mars. So that immediately limits the amount of mass that we can carry.”
Despite this challenge, NASA is confident that the fundamental rotorcraft configuration and control mechanism used in the Ingenuity Mars helicopter can be relied upon for the Mars Sample Recovery Helicopters. However, new features such as wheels and a small robot arm are still in the conceptual stage and subject to change.
Håvard Fjær Grip, who was previously the chief pilot of the Ingenuity helicopter, is now spearheading the development of the Mars Sample Recovery Helicopters. He says, “The new parts will require a lot of work, and that’s most likely to change as we go along with the design.” However, he remains optimistic about the project, noting, “The key thing is that we now have a new mobility system that’s ready and proven on Mars… and now it is how do you use it? It’s how far your imagination goes.”
The success of the Ingenuity Mars helicopter and the development of the Mars Sample Recovery Helicopters are just the beginning of NASA’s ambitious plans to explore and study Mars. As the saying goes, “The sky’s the limit!”