NASA sending remote-controlled mini-helicopter to Mars

Shown in this illustration is NASA's Mars Helicopter, a small, autonomous rotorcraft, that is envisioned to travel with the agency’s Mars 2020 rover mission, to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet. (NASA/JPL-CALTECH handout via AFP)
Updated 12 May 2018
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NASA sending remote-controlled mini-helicopter to Mars

  • Weighing less than 1.8 kg, "The Mars Helicopter" will be attached to the belly pan of the Mars 2020 rover
  • The helicopter is equipped with “solar cells to charge its lithium-ion batteries, and a heating mechanism to keep it warm through the cold Martian nights.”
TAMPA, US: The US space agency said Friday it plans to launch the first-ever helicopter to Mars in 2020, a miniature, unmanned drone-like chopper that could boost our understanding of the Red Planet.
Known simply as “The Mars Helicopter,” the device weighs less than four pounds (1.8 kilograms), and its main body section, or fuselage, is about the size of a softball.
It will be attached to the belly pan of the Mars 2020 rover, a wheeled robot that aims to determine the habitability of the Martian environment, search for signs of ancient life, and assess natural resources and hazards for future human explorers.
Mars 2020 is planned for launch in July 2020 with an arrival on the surface of Mars expected in February 2021.
“NASA has a proud history of firsts,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a statement.
“The idea of a helicopter flying the skies of another planet is thrilling.”
No nation has ever flown an helicopter on Mars before.
The undertaking began in August 2013 as a technology development project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
In order to fly in Mars’ thin atmosphere, the space helicopter has to be super light, yet as powerful as possible.
“The altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is about 40,000 feet (12,100 meters),” said Mimi Aung, Mars Helicopter project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“The atmosphere of Mars is only one percent that of Earth, so when our helicopter is on the Martian surface, it’s already at the Earth equivalent of 100,000 feet up (30,500 meters),” she added.
Engineers built the copter’s twin, counter-rotating blades to “bite into the thin Martian atmosphere at almost 3,000 rpm — about 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth,” said a NASA statement.
The helicopter is equipped with “solar cells to charge its lithium-ion batteries, and a heating mechanism to keep it warm through the cold Martian nights.”
Controllers on Earth will command the Mars Helicopter, which was designed to receive and interpret commands from the ground.
Plans are being laid for a 30-day flight test, with five flights going incrementally further each time, up to a few hundred yards (meters).
Its first flight calls for a brief vertical climb of 10 feet (three meters), followed by hovering for a half minute.
NASA views the copter as a “high-risk, high-reward technology demonstration,” it said.
If successful, it could be a model for scouting on future Mars missions, able to access places the human-built rovers cannot reach.
If it fails, it will not impact the Mars 2020 mission.
“The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers,” said NASA’s Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the science mission directorate.
“We already have great views of Mars from the surface as well as from orbit. With the added dimension of a bird’s-eye view from a ‘marscopter,’ we can only imagine what future missions will achieve.”


Saudi ICT sector holds key to growth, forum told

Updated 20 March 2019
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Saudi ICT sector holds key to growth, forum told

  • 5G will be used in 30% of big cities in Saudi Arabia by 2020
  • 90% of KSA has 4G technology coverage, including remote centers and villages

RIYADH: Information and communications technology (ICT) is one of the main drivers of development in today’s world, a Riyadh forum on “Digital Transformation for an Ambitious Country” has been told.

In his opening speech to the annual Communications and Information Technology Indicators Forum, Abdul Aziz Al-Ruwais, governor of the Communications and Information Technology Commission, said the ICT sector stimulated productivity, enhanced competitiveness and encouraged innovation.

On Wednesday, the Saudi minister of communications and information technology, Abdullah bin Amer Al-Sawaha, joined regional and global leaders in the ICT sector, telecom executives and government officials at the forum.

Al-Ruwais said that ICT has been used to “develop strategies and regulatory policies that can guarantee the availability of infrastructure, basic apparatus and services in all regions of the Kingdom.”

“In order to facilitate the mission of researchers, experts and those interested in telecommunication services indicators, the Communications and Information Technology Commission established an electronic platform that allows the user to have access to indicators and statistics related to the sector. This platform enables the user to view the indicators in the form of tables and detailed graphs,” he said.

Al-Ruwais said the commission has achieved 90 percent coverage of 4G technologies in the Kingdom, including remote centers and villages.

He said the authority has issued temporary licenses for fifth-generation networks, equipping 153 sites with 5G in nine cities. So far, 680 trials were conducted for 5G.

He said that ICT services achieved high indicators during the 2017 Hajj season, with local and international calls totaling 439 million through 16,000 base stations.

Mufarreh Nahari, director of Market Studies at CITC, said: “It is expected that by 2020 the experimental uses of 5G will be fully completed and they will be ready to launch the official 5G sim by then. By the end of 2020 we expect that 5G will be used in 30 percent of the big cities in Saudi Arabia.”

The past three years have seen an increase in internet usage. In 2018, two-thirds of Internet users in the Kingdom used the internet for more than four hours a day, said Nahari.

Ammar Al-Ansari, department head of Country Digital Acceleration at Cisco, said: “The agreements signed by the crown prince during his overseas visits led to the introduction of a number of artificial intelligence (AI) techniques, including virtual schools and smart classrooms.” 

Seven schools in Saudi have a live stream for teachers to connect with their students. They may be 250 km to 300 km apart, but an active learning session takes place between students and educators.

Al-Ansari displayed a video from a teacher in Jeddah giving lessons to students in the northern region via a smart board. AI was used to monitor and analyze students’ attention spans. 

The analysis will help educators update traditional teaching methods.