NASA wants helicopter drones to scout for Mars rovers

A new drone could triple the distances that Mars rovers can drive in a Martian day and help pinpoint interesting targets for study, says NASA.

While 3D printing in space was truly out of this world, NASA is looking to take their Maker game to an entirely new level: Mars. As you’re well aware, drones are just about everywhere these days, from Necker Island to Hollywood to the X Games. Now, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA is looking to bring them to Mars in the form of what they call the “Mars Helicopter.”


Though rovers have provided a great deal of information on the history and composition of the Red Planet, the high-tech tools lack in terms of orbital imagery and are limited to the view of its on-board cameras. Instead, NASA is hoping that its aerial robot scout can fly ahead of rovers, provide operators a much more in-depth look at the Mars, and allow them to “check out various possible points of interest and helping engineers back on Earth plan the best driving route.”

In addition, researchers could also use images from the ‘copter to seek features for rovers to study in greater detail. What’s more, the planet’s harsh environment and terrain means a drone needs to be engineered to be rugged enough to endure Martian conditions while remaining light enough to fly. The vehicle is envisioned to weigh 2.2 pounds and measure 3.6 feet across from the tip of one blade to the other. So far, the vehicle is a proof-of-concept with the prototype’s body resembling that of a medium-sized cubic tissue box.

Intrigued? Learn more about the NASA lab’s latest project here.

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