As part of its 2020 mission to put a more advanced rover on the Red Planet, NASA has announced that it’s going to send a small helicopter to Mars. This would make it the first time that an aircraft like the helicopter will be used outside our planet. The Mars Helicopter that NASA has developed is going to travel to the neighboring planet with the agency’s Mars 2020 rover. It’s scheduled to launch in July 2020.

According to NASA, it’s a small and autonomous rotorcraft that is being sent up to showcase the potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on Mars. Controlled remotely, the Mars Helicopter has been designed to fly in the thin Martian atmosphere with the help of its two counter-rotating blades.

It weighs around four pounds and has a fuselage that’s about the size of a softball. The blades will at almost 3,000 rpm which is almost 10 times the rate that’s used by helicopters on Earth.

That’s because the altitude record for a helicopter flying on Earth is around 40,000 feet. Since the atmosphere of Mars is only one percent of Earth, it means that when the helicopter is on the Martian surface its already at an altitude that’s equivalent of 100,000 feet on Earth, explains Mars Helicopter project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Mimi Aung.

The helicopter will reach Mars attached to the rover which will place it on the ground. Once that’s done, the rover will be instructed to drive to a safe distance from the helicopter so that it can relay commands. Once the batteries are charged and the tests are conducted, controllers here on Earth will pilot the helicopter to take its first flight in the Martian atmosphere.

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