The US space agency said Friday it plans to launch the first-ever helicopter to Mars in 2020, a miniature, unmanned drone-like chopper that could boost our understanding of the Red Planet.
Known simply as "The Mars Helicopter," the device weighs less than four pounds (1.8 kilograms), and its main body section, or fuselage, is about the size of a softball.
It will be attached to the belly pan of the Mars 2020 rover, a wheeled robot that aims to determine the habitability of the Martian environment, search for signs of ancient life, and assess natural resources and hazards for future human explorers.
Mars 2020 is planned for launch in July 2020 with an arrival on the surface of Mars expected in February 2021.
"NASA has a proud history of firsts," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a statement.
"The idea of a helicopter flying the skies of another planet is thrilling."
No nation has ever flown an helicopter on Mars before.
- Thin atmosphere -
The undertaking began in August 2013 as a technology development project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
In order to fly in Mars' thin atmosphere, the space helicopter has to be super light, yet as powerful as possible.
"The altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is about 40,000 feet (12,100 meters)," said Mimi Aung, Mars Helicopter project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
"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 (30,500 meters)," she added.
Engineers built the copter's twin, counter-rotating blades to "bite into the thin Martian atmosphere at almost 3,000 rpm -- about 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth," said a NASA statement.
The helicopter is equipped with "solar cells to charge its lithium-ion batteries, and a heating mechanism to keep it warm through the cold Martian nights."
Controllers on Earth will command the Mars Helicopter, which was designed to receive and interpret commands from the ground.
Plans are being laid for a 30-day flight test, with five flights going incrementally further each time, up to a few hundred yards (meters).
Its first flight calls for a brief vertical climb of 10 feet (three meters), followed by hovering for a half minute.
NASA views the copter as a "high-risk, high-reward technology demonstration," it said.
If successful, it could be a model for scouting on future Mars missions, able to access places the human-built rovers cannot reach.
If it fails, it will not impact the Mars 2020 mission.
"The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers," said NASA's Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the science mission directorate.
"We already have great views of Mars from the surface as well as from orbit. With the added dimension of a bird's-eye view from a 'marscopter,' we can only imagine what future missions will achieve."
Boston Dynamics’ robots look more natural and more amazing with each video, and today the company posted two more clips to its YouTube channel showing the latest progress of its Atlas and SpotMini robots.
The clips don’t reveal much we haven’t seen before, but they both show how naturally these robots are able to move around. In one video, Atlas, the humanoid robot, goes for a jog in a grassy yard that appears to be sloped here and there.
It pauses at one point to jump over a log; while the jump isn’t the most elegant of its movements, it’s not exactly a surprise the robot can accomplish this: we saw it doing a backflip last year.
A mega mall and entertainment complex in Northwest Miami-Dade that would dwarf any other appears to be on course for approval, but not without controversy.
It’s called the American Dream.
It would be the largest mall in the world.
A shopping and entertainment complex slated to go up on vacant land south of where the Florida Turnpike and I-75 meet near Broward County.
“We are not a run-of-the-mill mall,” said attorney Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, who represents the developers of the mall project. “We’re a family destination. We’re an entertainment complex. We’re a job-creating vehicle for Miami-Dade County.”
Developers say the retail shops, indoor pool and beach, waterslides and ski slopes would hire 14,000 people.
“We fully want to see this happen,” said Miami-Dade resident Ken Forrest. “Because it helps to improve the overall tourism industry.”
A local mother told the planning board the American Dream would save a drive to Disney World in Orlando, some three-plus hours away from Miami-Dade.
“As a mother of four small children, I’m very excited about the prospect of having a theme park for them,” said Homestead resident and mother Summer Davis.
Uber is releasing new information about Uber Air, an ambitious plan to launch a fleet of autonomous flying taxis in two years. "CBS This Morning" got the first look at the design models that will be on display at Tuesday's Uber Elevate Summit in Los Angeles.
"We think cities are going to go vertical in terms of transportation and we want to make that a reality," Dara Khosrowshahi told CBS News' Bianna Golodryga.
The Uber CEO said their new model of an air taxi shows the company's vision for the future of transportation. It's a world where passengers request an Uber Air on their phone, then head to rooftop sky ports where the aircraft take off.
"We want to create the network around those vehicles so that regular people can take these taxis in the air for longer distances when they want to avoid traffic at affordable prices," Khosrowshahi said.
Imagine flying from New York to Los Angeles, normally a six-hour ordeal, in under three hours. NASA is hoping that will one day be a reality as it works to prove that quiet supersonic commercial travel is possible.
The agency will be conducting a series of flights in November off the shores of Galveston, Texas, an island city outside of Houston. It’s a test to determine how to best study people’s reactions to quiet supersonic jets.
“This project, QSF 18, is a test so we can test the methodology for future community response testing for projects like the LBFD,” said Larry Cliatt, principal investigator for NASA.
LBFD is NASA’s low boom flight demonstrator—a supersonic aircraft that reduces the sound of the sonic boom. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company is working with NASA on its design. With low boom flights, NASA said it “intends to gather data on how effective quiet supersonic technology is in terms of public acceptance.”
The Federal Aviation Administration generally prohibits supersonic flight over land.