In order to better explore Mars without having to worry about maneuvering around uneven terrain, ridges, and valleys, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is working on a Mars Helicopter capable of recording and relaying terrestrial data from above.
An autonomous drone could potentially “triple the distances that Mars rovers can drive in a Martian day,” according to NASA.
Essentially, the Mars Helicopter would be the lead vehicle for a rover on the Martian surface. The drone would fly ahead of the rover and send what it sees back down to engineers on Earth who can then map out the best route for the rover to take.
Currently, prototype versions of the Mars Helicopter are being tested as a potential “add-on” to future rover missions. It will take a lot of research and development in order to figure out how to make the Mars Helicopter durable enough to withstand harsh Martian conditions, but also light enough to fly over the planet’s surface.