NASA Helicopter Ready to Hitch a Ride to the Red Planet

NASA's Mars Helicopter inside Kennedy Space Center's Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility
NASA’s Mars Helicopter is installed on the agency’s Mars Perseverance rover inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on April 6, 2020. Photo credit: NASA/JPL

NASA’s Mars Helicopter will make history in about 10 months when it becomes the first aircraft to fly on another world.

Now it has its ride to the Red Planet.

On April 6, 2020, the helicopter was attached to the belly of the agency’s Mars Perseverance rover. The installation took place inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the rover has remained since its Feb. 9, 2020, arrival from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

NASA Mars Helicopter and Mars Perseverance rover at Kennedy Space Center
NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover, carrying the agency’s Mars Helicopter, will touch down on the Red Planet on Feb. 18, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/JPL

The twin-rotor, solar-powered helicopter weighs less than 4 pounds; the total length of its rotors is about 4 feet, tip to tip. Its main purpose is a technology demonstration. After Perseverance safely lands on Mars, the helicopter will be released to perform the first in a series of flight tests that will take place during 30 Martian days (a day on Mars is about 40 minutes longer than a day on Earth).

For history’s first flight experimental flight test in the thin Martian atmosphere (less than 1% the density of Earth’s), the helicopter is tasked with hovering in the air a few feet off the ground for 20 to 30 seconds before landing. It is designed to fly on its own, without human control, using minimal commands from Earth sent in advance.

With the helicopter safely tucked away and covered by a shield to protect it during descent and landing, Perseverance will touch down on the Red Planet on Feb. 18, 2021. Liftoff aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket is targeted between July 17 and Aug. 5 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

NASA’s Launch Services Program based at Kennedy is managing the launch. For more in-depth information, visit the mission’s website.

Boeing CST-100 Starliner in Place at Space Launch Complex 41

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft rolls out from the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida
The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft rolls out from the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 21, 2019. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft arrives at the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Nov. 21, 2019.
A transporter carrying the spacecraft arrives at Space Launch Complex 41. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft that will launch to the International Space Station on the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) has taken a significant step toward launch. Starliner rolled out of Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 21, making the trek on a transport vehicle to Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

At the pad, Starliner was hoisted up at the Vertical Integration Facility and secured atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket for the flight test to the space station.

The Atlas V rocket that will carry Starliner comprises a booster stage and dual-engine Centaur upper stage, as well as a pair of solid rocket boosters.

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is lifted at the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 21, 2019.
The spacecraft is lifted at the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

The uncrewed flight test, targeted to launch Dec. 17, will provide valuable data on the end-to-end performance of the Atlas V rocket, Starliner spacecraft and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking and landing operations.

The data will be used as part of NASA’s process of certifying Boeing’s crew transportation system for carrying astronauts to and from the space station.

NASA is working in partnership with Boeing and SpaceX to launch astronauts on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil for the first time since 2011. Safe, reliable and cost-effective human transportation to and from the space station will allow for additional research time and increase the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s testbed for exploration.

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