NASA unveils next-gen helicopters for Mars to work in tandem with Perseverance

"We now have a new mobility system that's ready and proven on Mars". The future is as far as your imagination goes.
Amal Jos Chacko
An illustration of NASA's solar-powered Mars helicopter.
An illustration of NASA's solar-powered Mars helicopter.


Emboldened by the success of the Ingenuity Mars helicopter, scientists and engineers at NASA are in the process of designing another helicopter for Mars.

This new, upcoming helicopter will debut innovations that resulted from nearly 50 flights conducted by the Ingenuity Mars helicopter across the Jezero Crater.

NASA is currently contemplating a joint Mars Sample Return campaign with the European Space Agency that will transport regolith and Martian rock samples back to the Earth. This campaign would leverage NASA’s Perseverance rover and two Mars Sample Recovery Helicopters.

The Perseverance rover’s capability of transporting payload to designated drop-off zones has already been for the world to see when it delivered sample tubes to a special pick-up zone on the Red Planet’s topside. 

NASA intends for these sample tubes to be picked up and transferred by Sample Recovery Helicopters to a rocket waiting to launch into Martian orbit.

Håvard Fjær Grip, chief engineer of autonomy and aerial flight at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory summarized plans and the challenges involved in developing the planned Mars Sample Recovery Helicopters in an interview with

“The primary challenge here is mass. We have very little air to work with on Mars. That immediately limits the amount of mass that we can carry,” he said. While the hours logged by the Ingenuity Mars helicopter at Jezero Crater validate the basic design of a Mars helicopter, Grips says that new elements- such as wheels and a small robot arm for the Mars Sample Return helicopters- are still conceptual and uncertain.

“What we’re looking at now is how we can do it. What’s fairly clear is that the fundamental rotorcraft configuration and how we control it has been worked out and is heritage that can be relied upon. The new parts will require a lot of work, and that’s most likely to change as we go along with the design,” he noted.

Grip had been entrusted with the role of chief pilot of the Ingenuity helicopter from its inception until the start of this year when he shifted focus to the Mars Sample Recovery helicopters.

“That first flight definitely stands out... A nail biter. Many of the follow-on flights have new elements to them, like the new flight software to give the helicopter more capability,” he told Leonard David of

“Ingenuity has been tremendously helpful, taking images of the surface in that very region. The key thing is that we now have a new mobility system that’s ready and proven on Mars… and now it is how do you use it? It’s how far your imagination goes,” Grip concluded.

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