Author Topic: Mars Helicopter  (Read 7772 times)

Offline catdlr

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Mars Helicopter
« on: 01/23/2015 01:03 AM »
Crazy Engineering: Mars Helicopter

Published on Jan 22, 2015
JPL engineers are working on a small helicopter that could ‘scout’ a trail for future Mars rovers, but getting a chopper that could fly in the Martian atmosphere is tricky. Episode 2 of Crazy Engineering.

Tony De La Rosa

Offline gosnold

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Re: Mars Helicopter
« Reply #1 on: 01/25/2015 04:33 PM »
Interesting system, although I wouldn't bet on the long-term survival of this system on Mars. A safer alternative would be to put a camera/mirror on top of a long pole stuck to the rover. With a 10-m pole you may be able to see a few km away in flat terrain.

Offline Bubbinski

Re: Mars Helicopter
« Reply #2 on: 01/25/2015 04:47 PM »
Thanks for the video catdlr.  Couldn't the mini copter be mounted on a long tether that could stabilize and wind the craft back to the rover in an emergency?  Or alternatively would it be better to mount cameras on tethered balloons?
I'll even excitedly look forward to "flags and footprints" and suborbital missions. Just fly...somewhere.

Offline MarsInMyLifetime

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Re: Mars Helicopter
« Reply #3 on: 01/25/2015 05:06 PM »
Any pole or leash would need to be ejectable in case either became snagged in the landscape, effectively tethering the rover forever. I do worry about tip-over and blade damage effectively ending the reconnaissance mission earlier than planned.
Don

Offline Moe Grills

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Re: Mars Helicopter
« Reply #4 on: 01/25/2015 05:39 PM »
Personally, I would prefer to see a fixed wing unmanned aircraft used on Mars.
Imagine one equipped with a pair of HD digital cameras and transmitting the images to an HMO orbiter relay overhead. Imagine such a craft flying through the martian grand canyon and recording and transmitting HD streaming video of such an awesome scenic flight.
« Last Edit: 01/25/2015 05:40 PM by Moe Grills »

Offline Burninate

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Re: Mars Helicopter
« Reply #5 on: 01/25/2015 09:10 PM »
Personally, I would prefer to see a fixed wing unmanned aircraft used on Mars.
Imagine one equipped with a pair of HD digital cameras and transmitting the images to an HMO orbiter relay overhead. Imagine such a craft flying through the martian grand canyon and recording and transmitting HD streaming video of such an awesome scenic flight.
The average air pressure of the Martian surface is equivalent to Earth air pressure at 36,000 meters, and the maximum is at the bottom of Hellas, equivalent to 31,000 meters.  The highest altitude achieved by an unmanned solar-powered airplane on Earth has been 29,500 meters, and that was gigantic and extremely fragile.  Exacerbating factors: the solar power at 1AU is twice as intense.  Mitigating factors: The Earth atmosphere reduces insolation somewhat more than Mars, and gravity on Mars is a third as intense.

Streaming video is something we don't have the bandwidth for now - that will require laser telecommunications orbiters.

Superpressure balloons are much more practical on Mars than airplanes, and something that we're developing into functional products for Antarctic astronomy right now.

« Last Edit: 01/26/2015 04:10 AM by Burninate »

Offline Dalhousie

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Re: Mars Helicopter
« Reply #6 on: 01/25/2015 09:14 PM »
Looks like a good idea. I suspect that the probability of reuse decays exponentially with the number.  But even a single high would be a valuable for initial mission phases, especially of future missions aim to stay in the landing ellipse.
"There is nobody who is a bigger fan of sending robots to Mars than me... But I believe firmly that the best, the most comprehensive, the most successful exploration will be done by humans" Steve Squyres

Offline Bob Shaw

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Re: Mars Helicopter
« Reply #7 on: 01/25/2015 09:45 PM »
The atmospheric pressure on Mars is so low that getting anything to fly won't be easy. I could *just* about imagine a super-capacitor powered lurch into the air followed by a barely controlled descent, all of which seems a bit of a reach, especially when you add any payload.

There are alternatives.

Already available on our own planet are multi-camera rigs encased in tough balls which the user simply throws into the air. Or catapults, for that matter. The cameras all snap away like mad, and you can rapidly build a full 360 degree image. No pointing, nowt except cameras really. Imagine a springy extensible fishing rod with such a camera on a tether, pulled back and then allowed to go 'sproinggggg' into the air, then rapidly recovered (perhaps wound into a baseball mitt very quickly while still in the air, so no snagged recoveries).

If little else, it'd offer good sport for passing Martians with their ever-ready ACME disintegrator rays.

Now, put a helicopter on Titan, or Venus - then we'd be talking!
« Last Edit: 01/25/2015 09:46 PM by Bob Shaw »

Offline Dalhousie

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Re: Mars Helicopter
« Reply #8 on: 01/25/2015 10:19 PM »
The atmospheric pressure on Mars is so low that getting anything to fly won't be easy. I could *just* about imagine a super-capacitor powered lurch into the air followed by a barely controlled descent, all of which seems a bit of a reach, especially when you add any payload.


There have a number of studies on the viability of Mars helicopters, so personal incredibility aside, this appears a perfectly viable concept, with useful flight times, payloads and ranges.

http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA480702

http://rotorcraft.arc.nasa.gov/publications/files/Young%202005Mars_Rotorcraft_IEEE_Final.pdf


"There is nobody who is a bigger fan of sending robots to Mars than me... But I believe firmly that the best, the most comprehensive, the most successful exploration will be done by humans" Steve Squyres

Offline simonbp

Re: Mars Helicopter
« Reply #9 on: 01/25/2015 10:25 PM »
The atmospheric pressure on Mars is so low that getting anything to fly won't be easy. I could *just* about imagine a super-capacitor powered lurch into the air followed by a barely controlled descent, all of which seems a bit of a reach, especially when you add any payload.

Did you actually watch the video? Especially the part where they were testing the helicopter in the JPL vacuum chamber at Mars surface pressure conditions? The number of ~500 meters per day was based on actual analysis of the current capabilities of the design without invoking supercaps or any other exotic technologies.

In fact, given that they were able to get so much range out of a tiny (look like 10 cm2) solar cell, it really begs the question of if you could scale up the system and build a helicopter with an instrument package similar to Spirit/Opportunity. Given the issues with Curiosity's mobility system severely limiting its range, a "heli-rover" capable of traveling a km per sol (and then resting for a few sols to recharge take data) would be extremely competitive.

Quote
Now, put a helicopter on Titan, or Venus - then we'd be talking!

I don't know why you would want a helicopter on Venus. Anything at low altitudes would more like a high-temperature submersible, while at higher altitudes and Earth-like pressures, you don't want to sit still but rather move around and sample. I know for a fact that Northrop Grumman is working on a hybrid fixed-wing dirigible (think a plane with inflatable wings) to do just that.

On Titan, a helicopter would work great, but the solar flux at the surface of Titan is so low that you just could not do it solar powered. It would have to be RTG-powered, which makes the vehicle much larger...

Offline A_M_Swallow

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Re: Mars Helicopter
« Reply #10 on: 01/26/2015 07:06 AM »
A helicopter can fly over ridges and crevasses; these tend to imprison rovers.

A fixed wing aircraft will have difficulty taking off on a planet without runways.  It either has to return to the lander at night or stay in the air.  A rover and a plane are probably too heavy to send to Mars.

Offline pagheca

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Re: Mars Helicopter
« Reply #11 on: 01/26/2015 08:16 AM »
When I saw the title of this thread I thought "just another crap fantasy", given the low atmospheric pressure.

Then I read the post and found is quite a reasonable idea. It's amazing how common sense can be wrong in anything related to space...

One question: I would expect much longer blades than those. Do you know if those are due to reasonable specs for a Mars payload or they are limited by the 2400 rpm they mentioned for effective flight or any other requirement (stability? Fragility?). Any expert on helicopter basic design rules here?
« Last Edit: 01/26/2015 10:03 AM by pagheca »

Offline Bob Shaw

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Re: Mars Helicopter
« Reply #12 on: 01/31/2015 11:13 PM »
The atmospheric pressure on Mars is so low that getting anything to fly won't be easy. I could *just* about imagine a super-capacitor powered lurch into the air followed by a barely controlled descent, all of which seems a bit of a reach, especially when you add any payload.

Did you actually watch the video? Especially the part where they were testing the helicopter in the JPL vacuum chamber at Mars surface pressure conditions? The number of ~500 meters per day was based on actual analysis of the current capabilities of the design without invoking supercaps or any other exotic technologies.

In fact, given that they were able to get so much range out of a tiny (look like 10 cm2) solar cell, it really begs the question of if you could scale up the system and build a helicopter with an instrument package similar to Spirit/Opportunity. Given the issues with Curiosity's mobility system severely limiting its range, a "heli-rover" capable of traveling a km per sol (and then resting for a few sols to recharge take data) would be extremely competitive.

Quote
Now, put a helicopter on Titan, or Venus - then we'd be talking!

I don't know why you would want a helicopter on Venus. Anything at low altitudes would more like a high-temperature submersible, while at higher altitudes and Earth-like pressures, you don't want to sit still but rather move around and sample. I know for a fact that Northrop Grumman is working on a hybrid fixed-wing dirigible (think a plane with inflatable wings) to do just that.

On Titan, a helicopter would work great, but the solar flux at the surface of Titan is so low that you just could not do it solar powered. It would have to be RTG-powered, which makes the vehicle much larger...

Gosh. Yes, I *did* watch the video, but wasn't convinced.

As for Venus, that wasn't entirely serious, but ...

Offline speedevil

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Re: Mars Helicopter
« Reply #13 on: 04/02/2017 10:04 PM »
'new' video.


2-3 min flights, 600m range to 40m altitude, one flight a day.
1.1m rotors, 1kg, 220W power.
Transmits data back to a psuedo-instrument on the rover bus, which looks to the rover like any other instrument.

Blade tips are moving about half the local speed of sound.
Hard landings would be bad.

Offline TrevorMonty

Re: Mars Helicopter
« Reply #14 on: 04/02/2017 10:56 PM »
Being able survey a route from air for rover should speed up exploration. NASA can download flight information and use it to plot a route for rover. Load rover with 100m route and leave it to it.

Ideal for scouting lava caves.

Offline sevenperforce

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Re: Mars Helicopter
« Reply #15 on: 04/03/2017 02:13 PM »
Yeah, the low blade length is surprising to me. Total thrust is a function of power and blade-sweep area; you can boost your thrust without increasing power usage simply by increasing the area swept out by your blades.

But then again I'm sure they had a good reason, given the tests they've done. Maybe there was a concern about materials integrity with longer blades potentially reaching transonic speeds at the tip. The altered density and pressure of Martian atmosphere means a much lower local speed of sound.

I suppose another reason to minimize blade length would be the physical size of the craft....

Offline Rei

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Re: Mars Helicopter
« Reply #16 on: 04/03/2017 03:49 PM »
Quote
Now, put a helicopter on Titan, or Venus - then we'd be talking!

I don't know why you would want a helicopter on Venus. Anything at low altitudes would more like a high-temperature submersible, while at higher altitudes and Earth-like pressures, you don't want to sit still but rather move around and sample. I know for a fact that Northrop Grumman is working on a hybrid fixed-wing dirigible (think a plane with inflatable wings) to do just that.

Indeed, VAMP.  One of the coolest things about the concept is not just how it flies around the atmosphere, but how it does atmospheric entry: without an aeroshell. It inflates in space and does a very low beta, high L/D, very large cross section (aka radiating surface area) entry.

There's no serious proposal to actually launch VAMP at this time, but I'd love to see it compete for the next flagship mission.

There are of course many types of Venus flying probe proposals, mainly superpressure balloons. For the surface, two main concepts are explored - metal bellows with a winch to control lift, and phase change balloons, where liquid is kept in a pressure vessel, flash boiled when they want lift, and recondensed at high altitudes.  The former seems to be more in favour at present, and they've validated a prototype in an autoclave. Unfortunately it looks like the first mission to validate it won't fit in a Discovery budget.

Offline Rei

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Re: Mars Helicopter
« Reply #17 on: 04/03/2017 03:50 PM »
Yeah, the low blade length is surprising to me. Total thrust is a function of power and blade-sweep area; you can boost your thrust without increasing power usage simply by increasing the area swept out by your blades.

But then again I'm sure they had a good reason, given the tests they've done. Maybe there was a concern about materials integrity with longer blades potentially reaching transonic speeds at the tip. The altered density and pressure of Martian atmosphere means a much lower local speed of sound.

I suppose another reason to minimize blade length would be the physical size of the craft....

That is indeed the constraint: size. If you wanted bigger you'd have to engineer a folding prop - more money, more risk, more mass.

Offline TrevorMonty

Re: Mars Helicopter
« Reply #18 on: 04/03/2017 06:16 PM »
Current mass and size limits are so it can fit on this rover as payload. Future versions could be up to 50kg, at this size a rover could be helicopter's payload.

Ideal payload for likes of Red dragon.

Offline Tulse

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Re: Mars Helicopter
« Reply #19 on: 04/03/2017 07:38 PM »
I wonder if it would be possible to put the solar cells on the rotor blades.  This would avoid the aerodynamic problems of where it is currently, and would also likely give a larger area for the cells.

I also wonder if instead of putting panels of aerogel into the chassis for thermal protection, one couldn't simply carve the body of the vehicle out of a block of aerogel, and thus use the thermal protection as a structural component as well.  This might lower weight, and would provide a better thermal seal for the electronics as it reduces the number of seams that have to be managed.

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