NASA is sending a helicopter to Mars

Joining the Mars 2020 rover mission to the Red Planet will be a small helicopter. The Mars Helicopter, with a softball-size fuselage, the autonomous chopper will be solar powered and integrate a small heater so it doesn't seize up at night. From NASA:

Once the rover is on the planet’s surface, a suitable location will be found to deploy the helicopter down from the vehicle and place it onto the ground. The rover then will be driven away from the helicopter to a safe distance from which it will relay commands. After its batteries are charged and a myriad of tests are performed, controllers on Earth will command the Mars Helicopter to take its first autonomous flight into history.

“We don’t have a pilot and Earth will be several light minutes away, so there is no way to joystick this mission in real time,” said (Mimi Aung, Mars Helicopter project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.) “Instead, we have an autonomous capability that will be able to receive and interpret commands from the (rover on the) ground, and then fly the mission on its own.”

“The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers,” said Zurbuchen. “We already have great views of Mars from the surface as well as from orbit. With the added dimension of a bird’s-eye view from a ‘marscopter,’ we can only imagine what future missions will achieve.”

Mars 2020 will launch on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and is expected to reach Mars in February 2021.

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Why we don't commute with helicopters

Choppers are now associated mostly with militaries, hospitals, news reporting and other institutional uses. But they were once seriously touted as mass transit vehicles, the original flying car. It all came to an end in 1977, when four passengers were killed in the spectacularly nasty Panam rooftop disaster. Efforts to revive scheduled passenger helicopter service is periodically revived, but everyone's failed at it -- including future president Donald Trump. Read the rest

Hotel room in a helicopter

This converted Sea King helicopter on a camp site in Stirling, Scotland is available for overnight stays at the rate of ~$200/night. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the helicopter doesn't fly. From Helicopter Glamping:

We snapped up the decommissioned Sea King in an online MOD auction for £7,000 in March 2016. The giant helicopter was then transported 320 miles by road before being craned into position on our picturesque Thornhill campsite a month later.

Over the summer months, we have lovingly restored her exterior to its former glory. We sourced some original rotor blades and replaced her tail rotors with some we discovered on Ebay, as we wanted her to still look like a helicopter from the outside. Her once peeling paintwork is a thing of the past after several days spent sanding her down and completely repainting her, whilst making sure we kept all her original signage. We thought we might have trouble finding the right shade of grey, but it turns out farm oxide paint – normally used for farm buildings or fencing – is a perfect match for her military colour.

We’ve kept and restored all of her original lighting, so when you see her lit up a night she looks as if she is ready to take off. Meanwhile, we’ve transformed her spacious interior into a remarkable holiday home that sleeps a family of five (2 adults and 3 children) with a double and a triple bed as well as single bed in the tail.

(via Uncrate)

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Human powered helicopter competition is close

Who will win the $250,000 Sikorsky human-powered helicopter competition: Gamera II (above), Upturn II, or Atlas? The prize has gone unclaimed since it was first offered in 1980. On June 13, AeroVelo tweeted that the Atlas had successfully met the competition's conditions for a valid flight. The team has alerted the American Helicopter Society, but there's been no official announcement yet. Read the rest

Contest to build a human-powered helicopter

Since 1980, hundreds of young engineers have entered the Igor I. Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Competition. Nobody has won the grand prize of $250,000 for demonstrating "a one minute hovering time, a momentary achievement of 3 meters altitude, and controlling the vehicle within a constrained box -- all in the same flight." But damn, they're sure trying. "Straight Up Difficult" (NPR) Read the rest

Dead catcopter in flight

Good morning. Here is a high-quality photograph of the taxidermy catcopter Xeni posted video of yesterday. [Cris Toala Olivares / Reuters] Read the rest