NASA's Mars 2020 mission team has carried out a flight test of the Lander Vision System (LVS), which will help guide NASA's next Mars mission to a safe touchdown on the Red Planet, NASA said in a release on Friday.
An Airbus helicopter carried an engineering model of the LVS on the test flight in Death Valley, California. During the flight, the helicopter (which is not part of the mission and was used just for testing) and its two-person crew flew a pre-planned sequence of maneuvers while LVS collected and analyzed imagery of the barren, mountainous terrain below.
LVS is an integral part of a guidance system called Terrain-Relative Navigation that will steer the Mars 2020 rover away from hazardous areas during its final descent to Jezero Crater of the Red Planet on February 18, 2021, according to NASA.
"Current flight test of the Mars 2020 Lander Vision System will help enable safe landing in more scientifically interesting places in space, including future human exploration of the Moon and Mars," NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory tweeted.
Mars 2020 will be the first spacecraft in the history of planetary exploration with the ability to accurately retarget its point of touchdown during the landing sequence.
The rover carries a sample-catching system that will collect samples of Martian rock and soil, and store them on the surface of the planet for retrieval and return to Earth by subsequent missions, according to NASA.
Mars 2020 is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in July of 2020.
(Top image via VCG)