"Exploring the Red Planet with NASA's Mars Helicopter exemplifies a successful marriage of science and technology innovation and is a unique opportunity to advance Mars exploration for the future", said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency headquarters in Washington.
The Mars Helicopter, a small, self-flying aircraft designed specifically for the Red Planet, will be included in the space agency's next rover mission in 2020 to beam back a birds-eye view of Martian terrain.
The remote Mars Helicopter, created to carry flight in the thin Martian setting with twin counter-rotating bladesthat weighs about four pounds (1.8 kilograms), with a fuselage the size of a softball, NASA explained.
"The altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is about 40,000 feet", said Mimi Aung, manager of the project at JPL. The helicopter will recharge its lithium-ion batteries between flights with solar cells.
After the helicopter is placed on the ground the rover will be directed to drive to a safe distance to relay commands.
NASA's next Mars mission will have a helicopter onboard.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has been developing the helicopter since 2013, and eventually shrunk the fuselage to around the size of a softball to help make the drone viable.
Even if the aerial project flops on arrival, it won't hurt the main Mars 2020 rover mission, which is scheduled for launch in the summer of that year to land in February 2021.
"The idea of a helicopter flying the skies of another planet is thrilling", he said. Engineers built the copter's twin, counter-rotating blades to "bite into the thin Martian atmosphere at nearly 3,000 rpm - about 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth", said a NASA statement.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has given the thumbs-up to putting a helicopter on Mars. However, since Mars's atmosphere is just 1 percent of Earth's, a helicopter that's just sitting on the surface of the Red Planet is already at the equivalent of 100,000 feet on Earth.
The helicopter's first flight will see it climb 10 feet (3 meters) into the Martian air, where it will attempt to hover for 30 seconds. The copter won't be controllable in real time from Earth, due to the light-speed travel time involved.
According to Bridenstine, the success of the "marscopter" may enable more ambitious missions in the future.