In a first, NASA tests 'next-gen' Mars helicopters designs on two different planets | WATCH

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently released a video showing carbon fiber rotor blades “that could be used with the next-generation of Mars helicopters”. The testing of the pair of Mars helicopter rotor blades was held just a day before NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter made a record-breaking flight on the Red Planet.

According to, the NASA is planning to incorporate helicopter-like drones into future Mars missions. These are expected to be “built with designs more robust than their predecessor — which has completed 66 flights, and counting”.

About ‘next-generation Mars helicopter’

The NASA said a new rotor, that could be used with next-generation Mars helicopters, was tested at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California on September 15 this year.

“The next-generation carbon fiber rotor blades being tested on Earth are almost 4 inches (more than 10 centimeters) longer than Ingenuity’s, with greater strength and a different design,” NASA JPL said in its report.

Over three weeks, the carbon-fiber blades were spun up at ever-higher speeds and greater pitch angles to see if they would remain intact as their tips approached supersonic speeds.

As part the test, the blades were spun up to 3,500 rpm, which is 750 revolutions per minute faster than the Ingenuity blades have gone. It spun at near-supersonic speeds (0.95 Mach).



“Longer and stronger than those used on the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, the carbon-fiber blades reached near-supersonic speeds during testing,” the space agency said.

After the completion of the test, Tyler Del Sesto, Sample Recovery Helicopter deputy test conductor at JPL, said, “These more efficient blades are now more than a hypothetical exercise. They are ready to fly.”

The US space agency believes that these blades could enable bigger, more capable Mars helicopters. “The challenge is, as the blade tips approach supersonic speeds, vibration-causing turbulence can quickly get out of hand,” it added.

Earth and Mars ‘home to testing future aircraft designs’

While the “next-generation carbon fiber rotor blades” were tested on Earth, Ingenuity, the Mars helicopter, flew its 59th flight across the Martian surface, reaching an altitude of 66 feet (20 meters) on September 16. This marked its highest flight ever.

A video shared by NASA JPL on X shows two perspectives of the 59th flight of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. “Video on the left was captured by the Mastcam-Z on NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover; the black-and-white video on the right was taken by Ingenuity’s downward-pointing Navcam,” NASA said.



“The agency’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has achieved new altitude and airspeed records on the Red Planet in the name of experimental flight testing,” NASA said.

According to NASA, Ingenuity was originally slated to fly no more than five times. “With its first flight entering the mission logbook more than two-and-a-half years ago, the helicopter has exceeded its planned 30-day mission by 32 times and has flown 66 times,” it added.

Referring to this milestone achieved by Ingenuity helicopter on Mars and the testing of carbon fiber rotor blades on Earth, NASA said, “For the first time in history, two planets have been home to testing future aircraft designs.”

“Our next-generation Mars helicopter testing has literally had the best of both worlds,” Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity’s project manager and manager for the Mars Sample Recovery Helicopters, was quoted by a report published by the NASA JPL as saying.

“Here on Earth, you have all the instrumentation and hands-on immediacy you could hope for while testing new aircraft components. On Mars, you have the real off-world conditions you could never truly re-create here on Earth.” That includes a whisper-thin atmosphere and significantly less gravity than on Earth, the NASA report said.

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Updated: 29 Nov 2023, 07:33 PM IST

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