China is further expanding its Mars exploration capabilities. This time China’s National Space Administration (CNSA) looks to add a prototype helicopter to its growing collection of space exploration instruments.
Developed by the National Space Science Centre (NSSC), the Mars surface cruiser drone passed its final assessment on the 20th of August, according to China’s Academy of Sciences (CAS).
The helicopter is one of three designs in a cultivation program established by NSSC. It isn’t the first time CNSA has considered a Mars helicopter. Last year, a concept design out of the Qian Xuesen Laboratory of Space Technology almost made the voyage to the red planet. However CNSA opted for a rover and orbiter instead, successfully landing on Mars in May 2021.
China’s design for a Mars chopper is strikingly similar to NASA’s Ingenuity, a small helicopter on Mars that has conducted as many as 12 flights, the longest flight lasting nearly three minutes and travelling 450 metres in the process.
The design is a winged drone with dual rotor blades, sensory equipment and cameras. The craft is capable of lifting off vertically before deploying and pitching its wings.
Capable of manoeuvring in cramped conditions, the helicopter would be able to explore regions inaccessible to alternative vehicles, such as canyons and depressions.
China’s prototype reportedly has a range of ten kilometres – an astounding distance to cover on Mars, considering Ingenuity has only covered 2 kilometres in 12 flights.
There are many difficulties facing scientists attempting flight on another planet. Perhaps most notably, the atmosphere or lack thereof. To overcome the thin air –only 1% as dense as Earth’s – the craft needs to compensate for the lack of lift.
To do this, the engineers of the Ingenuity created an ultra-light 1.8-kilogram helicopter with blades that rotated significantly faster.
Along with the prospective helicopter, NSSC also put forward a balloon concept. The balloon would be tasked with analysing the atmosphere on Mars at various altitudes, documenting the landscape with high-resolution cameras and data collection.
China’s space programme continues to go from strength to strength. Zhurong, the nation’s Mars rover, recently spent its 100th Earth day on the red planet. To mark the occasion, CNSA released a set of striking images taken by the craft.
Zhurong has travelled little over a kilometre in the soft red dirt since it made its landing. CSNA reported that the mission is going well, with Zhurong and its accompanying orbiter set for decommission and lost communications later this month.