Crazy Engineering: Mars Helicopter
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Crazy Engineering: Mars Helicopter

September 8, 2019


Hey guys! We’ve all seen these RC helicopters before. They’re everywhere. They’re a ton of fun. But we were thinking at JPL, could we fly one of these on Mars? We’re going to talk about that on this episode of Crazy Engineering. (Music) So why would we want to put a helicopter on Mars? If I’m the rover right now, I can’t really see the terrain behind me. But if I had a helicopter with a camera on it, all of a sudden, I can see a whole lot more. If our rover was equipped with its very own helicopter that could see over tall objects in front of it, it would allow us to make decisions much more efficiently on which way to command the rover. You might think it’s actually easier to fly one of these helicopters on Mars because it’s actually 3/8th the gravity we have here on Earth, but it’s a hundred times less atmosphere. The way any of these helicopters work is the rotor blades spin up and they produce lift because of the density of the atmosphere. So once you lose that density, you’ve got to spin even faster or get bigger rotor blades or get lighter. How are we going to solve that problem if we go to Mars? Let’s go talk to an expert and see if we can figure this out. All right guys, I think we found our expert. This is Bob. Bob, can you tell us where we’re at right now? This is one of our robotics labs at JPL where we have a full scale mockup of one of the Mars helicopters we’ve been working on. What are the challenges you have to overcome in order to produce lift on the surface? Right, so there is the challenge of the very low density of the atmosphere. There’s the challenge of keeping the whole mass of the system small so that we don’t overwhelm the lift capability of this system. It has to be autonomous in terms of being able to fly and maintain stable flight. And then this system has to repeatedly take off and land on natural rocky terrain like you see out here. And then the other one is that it has to survive the harsh environment of Mars. So we’re early in the design stages of this thing. What kind of testing, what kinds of results have you seen so far? So over the course of the last year we have done a number of tests in our 25-foot vacuum chamber using scale models where we pump down to Mars densities, demonstrating lift of these kinds of blades. So how fast do these blades have to spin to produce lift? They have to spin at about 2400 rpm to provide lift. Could you tell us a little bit about this helicopter’s capabilities when it’s on Mars? So the system is designed to fly for 2-3 minutes every day. There’s a solar panel on the top and that provides us with enough energy for that short flight, as well as to keep us warm through the night. So in those 2-3 minutes, we expect to have daily flights of about half a kilometer or so. What are the next steps? How do we get this thing ready for a future rover mission? Because this thing is going to take off every day and land every day, we want to make sure we have a bulletproof landing system, and landing is the riskiest part of any mission. EDL had 7 minutes of terror. We have 7 seconds of terror everyday. Bob thanks so much for teaching us about the helicopter. I hope you guys out there had as much fun as we did learning about this and check back soon for some more Crazy Engineering.

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  1. If there is less gravity, wouldn't it be possible to use a very small gas-balloon on top to help it stand back up if you make a bad landing and tips over? It would help with the lift when flying, conserving energy from the engine during flight.
    Energy that you could then use to run three simultaneous video-projectors focused into a hologram, saying "Help us, Obi Wan Kenobi. You're our only hope." – if you meet ze alienz.

  2. Given they're pretty small, I expect you could equip a Curiosity-style rover with two or three of these little beauties. Send two out to do the day's scouting, keep the third spare in case one of the others breaks down.

  3. Excellent.

    I fully give my authority & official approval for this project.

    Furthermore I authorize JPL/NASA's moral ability to begin
    publicly crowdfunding space exploration.

    Who wouldn't spend five or ten bucks to get their name microprinted
    (along with 10,000,000 others) on something that hauls ass to Mars!

    ~Oliver revilO  (Earth Human & Supreme Ideannaire Extraordinaire)

  4. What on Earth could be cooler than helicopters on Mars? Nothing, absolutely nothing, but people on Mars would be cooler.  

  5. A sphere seems like a better design idea from a landing perspective. Low center of gravity and it will right itself. How does a cube right itself if it does happen to fall on its side?

  6. Make them like insects.  I know it can't be done today,  but the advantage would be i) not depending on a single vehicle,   ii) having many cameras in many drones,  all talking to the base rover iii) insects use tiny amounts of power and still see a lot of the world !   Recharge from the rover like a toothbrush.

  7. wouldnt an airship type craft be better? less working parts and could maybe float and bounce around? ahaaa! yes! ta! i enjoy!!!!   

  8. This show should be more in-depth. Like, how is the rotor size calculated and how does this differ for Mars? What about the dust? Etc, etc.

  9. Could this also be used to clean solar panels of potential future rovers? Also: why not have the helicopter land on the rover, where the rover can help catch the helicopter?

  10. Why have four landing struts when that's never going to be level and hardly ever stable, while three struts will be level and more stable just about every time?

  11. Are there strong winds on Mars? There should still be high and low pressure zones on Mars when the sun heats up the terrain, which should move around the little atmosphere mars has.

  12. I think an airship design would be a better bet, larger area for solar panels, more gentle flight profile, would carry more equipment.

  13. Appreciate the 60fps video, noticed the difference straight away. Looks good.

    Also like these engineering series – would love to see some slightly more in-depth ones.

  14. @NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory But the million dollar question is, will the FAA allow it? 😉 Seriously, this is a cool and perfectly rational idea that will be a huge challenge to pull off. The low mass of the drone is needed not just to provide for its own payload, but also because every gram lifted off the earth in the rocket that will carry it to Mars is uber critical and uber x1000 expensive. Another question: Navigation? No GPS on Mars as far as I know. How to allow the drone to know where it starts, where it is to go, and document the location of what it "sees" on the way? The Mars ground rovers do a form of celestial navigation… Or do they use other methods? Talking to the orbiters perhaps?

  15. I'm not sure why this solution is preferable to some kind of mechanical extending periscope/monocular that communicates wirelessly with the rover, assuming all they need is a higher vantage. Add a laser range finder/scanner and you could even build a basic 3D map of the area for navigation.

  16. Like Beagle 2, this helicopter is also destined to failure due to malfunction. Mark my words, and read them in 15 years, in 2030.

  17. Maybe they should take a look at the mini toy quadcopters residing in a spinning
    cage. With one of these one bad landing would not put an end to the mission – and
    you can use the cage to roll around at the ground which takes less energy than flying.

  18. Maybe incorporate solar panels into the blades and lose the top panel? Also, the ability to stow/store the blades in a dust storm. Maybe the blades could be actuated so the unit could right itself. Little insect legs so it could walk or drag itself off of obstacles or short distances to flat places where it can take off again?

  19. … or a small scale drone; a mini weather balloon; or even a remote controlled truck that can right itself if rolled over (toy type)

  20. You guys are nuts! Designing the device with legs? Have you not seen the device already built by the Japanese? It's a helicopter in a BALL! Doesn't matter where it lands or what it hits. The little chopper is always going to be safe inside the globe frame! A much more satisfactory solution IMHO!

  21. The solar panels could be integrated to the blades – such materials exist already, and that would have many positive effects (lower point of gravity, stiffer blades, rotation would wipe away any dust). Probably the main obstacle is wiring – wanting to avoid brushing surfaces. Also, a solar-on-blades would look way cooler! 🙂

  22. MARS ROVER FAKERY FINALLY BUSTED. A photo from the Mars Curiosity Rover that NASA most likely accidentally released to the public, (and accidental government leaks have happened many times) show a man clearly leaning over the Curiosity Rover doing some type of fix or maintenance…

    www.pinterest.com…

    The whole Mars Rover project over these many years may have been a front to justify a large budget directed towards such a project, but the money most likely was directed towards other government projects, like Black Projects.

    For many years people glancing and studying Mars images released from NASA's Rovers, have noticed objects and formations that look remarkable man made, along with animals looking fossils sometimes. Turns out there was a real good reason for that, because those objects where on Earth to begin with.

  23. iles scientifiques  vont faire sur Mars en 2020 ce Que les e extraterrestre on fait a st polycarpe et a st zotique Québec Canada le 4 juin 2014 a 16h 03 avec leurs drone qui survolait le filage pendant que un autre vaisseau se déplaçait auras le so l des vidéo circule sur le net depuis le mois de juin 2014 photos et vidéo a l appuie ce n est pas un fake ces tout bonnement la réalités voir photos et vidéo sur youtube (contactovni chanel )

  24. Is it just me or NASA seems slow in Inovation?! I think until now I could've solved many problems and brought many solutions…I think alot of time is wasted at NASA or we are shown little things…

  25. You should make a quad rotor that rotates the propellers to double for tires. Just make the rotors encased inside the wheel for protection. Drive in bad weather, fly in good.. Seems simple enough, right? 

  26. looks like a helicopter with a cube under it… when I heard about nasa wanting to send a helicopter to mars I thought its going to be a little more scifi but that … I mean I know that is a scale model and all that but still the design…you can probably buy the parts online and put it together… is nasa founding really that bad?

  27. as for the mars environment resistance… just build a portable hangar that slowly moves with the rover or make it part of the rover, and if a sand storm is coming just land it on the pad than "drag the curtain" on it… you don't have to make it bullet proof.

  28. just curious, instead of a helicopter, why not a probe plane? Would A plane need more atmosphere or less? If you think im a stupid moron, the please tell me why these are not possible, honestly, I want to know why I haven't seen a proposal of this yet.

  29. Now, you know this idea was inspired by the movie "The Red Planet," it wasn't an original idea of their own. May be a good idea, but not original.

  30. wait if that thing can have solar panels on it and charge itself that means i can def come up with my own hexa that does that on earth!

  31. :
    this seems like it could be a project that might be modeled with X-Plane's flight simulator. They have designs for helicopters. They have the atmosphere and terrain for Mars modeled. Lets go!

  32. I didn't learn much from this video. Make another that states the required RPM on Earth so that the stated required RPM on Mars makes sense.

  33. Hmm, wonder if the ultrafast blades with electromagnetic bearings and brushless drives are the only way in the air that thin and that dusty…

  34. The atmosphere of mars is not as thin as nasa wants you to believe. I don't know why this is such a big secret. But the Martian atmosphere is warming, rapidly. And the sky is more blue than red.

  35. Queen rover with detachable scout rovers would be a nice design as could cover a more of planets surface with much more efficiency.

  36. Won't using helicopters cause a lot of dust that can get on the rover's lenses, solar panels and mess with other equipment? Why not use a tethered balloon with He to get an overview of the area.

  37. The atmospheric density on Mars at ground level is almost as density of Earth's atmosphere at the level of the stratosphere. This means that there is very weak resistance of the martian air, therefore it is not an ideal environment for the flight.

  38. Why not go serious like Curiosity and send nuclear powered flying drone. I know it would be big and heavy but also way better.

  39. Just send a bunch of these on a Red Dragon mission and have them roll out one every day to scout and make video then return to launch to charge it up… I smell Amazon Prime collab 😉

  40. I want to know if it is easier or harder to fly in mars with helicopter or with airplane how big is advantage from low gravity and how bad is low dense atmosphere?

  41. The rover should house AT LEAST 2 drones. That way if they lose one they still have another. The rover should also be capable of righting a drone that has flipped over.

  42. шасі потрібно допрацювати…, або випробувати на поверхні схожу на Марс .

  43. Hey LIARS, first you tell us Mars has 1% of the Earth's atmosphere, and now you're telling us a helicopter will fly there!…LOL So you have a helicopter that flys and maneuvers in a virtual vacuum, REALLY?!…LOL First of all, Mars is a light, not a terra firma ball that you can land on. Second, even in your lie filled existence, if Mars were actually a solid sphere that spins at 540 mph, just how do you land something on a ball that you say is spinning at 540mph?! You people should be put in jail for theft of the American people's tax money, and falsifying your entire existence! Hey LIARS, first you tell us Mars has 1% of the Earth's atmosphere, and now you're telling us a helicopter will fly there!…LOL So you have a helicopter that flys and maneuvers in a virtual vacuum, REALLY?!…LOL First of all, Mars is a light, not a terra firma ball that you can land on. Second, even in your lie filled existence, if Mars were actually a solid sphere that spins at 540 mph, just how do you land something on a ball that you say is spinning at 540mph?! You people should be put in jail for theft of the American people's tax money, and falsifying your entire existence!

  44. I 've always wondered why you guys don''t wanna use atomic energy as the main source? Nuclear is the gift so we must use it. radiation is not good for living things, so we 'd have to adapt it in order to be it as safe as possible. solar panels are good but what you gonna do with it on titan? I'd love to fly over the titan on a nuclear powered drone, and receiving hd images from that distance soon!

  45. 23 million dollars later… IMO all you really need is a 8m long tethered balloon attached to the rover with 360 degree camera at the top.

  46. The Mars helicopter will fail and this is why.

    The softball-sized "marscopter" weighs about four pounds and is fitted with two sets of rotor blades, which can spin at 3000 rotations a minute. Too much technology and the lack of endurance is what I’m basing my option on.

    I may not be a “rocket engineer” but I have worked in the world of mechanical engineering over many, many years.

    NASA’s little helicopter is the size of softball This "marscopter" weighs about four pounds and is fitted with two sets of rotor blades, which can spin at 3000 rotations a minute and as a drone will have to land no matter what batteries or power supplies it has. Yes I did see that NASA/JPL did design a rotor blade assembly incorporating the use of photovoltaics The possibility of damage to either rotor blades is of high risk. If the rotor or motor should fail because of the abrasion of fine particulates in the Martian atmosphere it will become immobile. Also there is one more point that makes this impractical is wind. (Gravity still works just as well on Mars as it does on Earth)

    Given that Mars has only 0.7% of atmospheric pressure of the Earth, the rotor blades would be of such a size it would be an impractical design (Most helicopters can fly up to 25000ft at its maximum. A black hawk can fly up to 10000ft. Indian Chetak Helis can fly up to 20000ft but remember your dealing with Earth not Mars.)

    Now I would use an older technology and that is a powered airship. Yes a lighter than aircraft! It will carry a heaver payload than any helicopter you could ever launch from the surface of Mars.

    If the motor failed on it would not crash and its payload will keep functioning. Although it would be at the mercy of the winds on Mars. (The wind speeds that Viking observed at its site in summer is 2 to 7 m/s (5 to 16 mph) The wind speeds at Viking site in fall is 5 to 10 m/s (11 to 22 mph) and the wind speeds at Viking site in a dust storm 17 to 30 m/s (38 to 67 mph). At higher altitudes, the movement of dust was measured at 250-300 mph. This may sound fast but you have to realize that weather balloons on Earth frequently traverse the jet streams without harm.)

    A lighter than airship can be made buoyant neutral and gather samples from a wide range without difficulty and return to its base following a homing beacon and dock. This base could also be used as a return vehicle and return samples to Earth if needed. The docking station could use an electromagnet on a swivel as to face into any winds when docked It could also use the photovoltaics on the top of this airship to supplement power at the docking base for running tests on any samples retrieved and download photos or videos for transmission back to Earth.

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