NASA is yet to decide whether to add a helicopter to the Mars 2020 mission. Scientists are also concerned that adding a helicopter will cause a distraction to the rover’s science mission. Mars 2020 will pass a review called the Key Decision Point D this month.
After the review, the project can now enter the assembly stage. After the assembly stage, the project will go through the test and launch phase. NASA expects that they would complete all these within two years. NASA wants to launch the mission in July 2020.
NASA’s acting associate administrator, Steve Jurczyk, said that NASA would decide whether to add the helicopter or not after the review that will happen at the end of this month.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is developing the helicopter. They are preparing the helicopter without collaboration with the Mars 2020 mission. However, there is coordination to make it easy to add the helicopter to the rover.
If NASA decides to add the helicopter to the mission, the helicopter will work for only 30 days at the onset of the mission. The helicopter will show how they can use such vehicles on rovers in the future. NASA will only agree to add the helicopter if it does not put the mission at risk.
Ken Farley, a project scientist for the Mars 2020 mission, said that the Mars project had included a possibility of adding a helicopter. Hence, it will be easy to add the helicopter to the rover if they agree to do so. He, however, mentioned that he is not pushing for the inclusion of the helicopter. Ken also said that the Mars 2020 mission did not have plans of adding a helicopter from the onset.
He believes that the helicopter will be a distraction and it will take away the rover’s work for at least 30 days. The team would wait for a review before making a decision. However, NASA is working on some technical issues. The issues include the development of a heat shield for the Mars mission.
The heat shield for the mission cracked during testing in April. The heat shield has initially been a spare for the Mars Science Laboratory Mission (MSL) in 2012. Farley revealed that they would build a new one based on the design of the one used for the MSL mission. They are yet to ascertain the cause of the crack.