NASA has been able to gather unprecedented amounts of information on Mars using a single, land-bound drone, so just imagine what it could do with a flying drone. It sounds like NASA has already started imagining it, and it must like what it sees, because there’s a good chance that the Mars 2020 rover will come with a flying companion drone that will scout out potential points of interest for the land-bound rover to explore.
The next NASA Mars rover may include a helper drone. This morning, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab outside Los Angeles announced that it is considering adding a drone to the Mars 2020 rover. According to Elizabeth Landau of the Jet Propulsion Lab: “The Mars Helicopter (is) a proposed add-on to Mars rovers of the future that could potentially triple the distance these vehicles currently drive in a Martian day, and deliver a new level of visual information for choosing which sites to explore. The helicopter would fly ahead of the rover almost every day, checking out various possible points of interest and helping engineers back on Earth plan the best driving route. Scientists could also use the helicopter images to look for features for the rover to study in further detail. Another part of the helicopter’s job would be to check out the best places for the rover to collect key samples and rocks for a cache, which a next-generation rover could pick up later.”