NASA has announced that it is to send its “Mars Helicopter”, a small autonomous rotorcraft, to Mars with the agency’s Mars 2020 rover mission, currently scheduled to launch in July 2020. Started in August 2013 as a technology development project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the Mars Helicopter is a small drone weighing just 1.8 kg. To fly in the very thin Martian atmosphere,  its twin counter-rotating blades will have to rotate at almost 3,000 rpm – about 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth.

Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s new Administrator was quick to announce on his Twitter feed:

@NASA news! Our next rover to Mars will carry the first helicopter ever to fly over the surface of another world.

“NASA has a proud history of firsts,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “The idea of a helicopter flying the skies of another planet is thrilling. The Mars Helicopter holds much promise for our future science, discovery, and exploration missions to Mars.”

Mars helicopter animation
Animation of Mars helicopter and Mars 2020 rover.
Credits: NASA/JPL-CalTech