India plans to include a helicopter on its next Mars mission

a small helicopter sits in red rocky dirt
NASA's Ingenuity helicopter on the Martian surface, photographed by the Perseverance rover's rear Hazard Camera on April 4, 2021. India wants to include an Ingenuity-like chopper on its next Mars mission, which could launch in the early 2030s. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

India's next Mars mission could include a helicopter that follows in the footsteps of NASA's pioneering Ingenuity drone.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is currently working on the concept, which would fly along with an Indian Mars lander sometime around the start of the 2030s.

India's first mission to the Red Planet — the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), also nicknamed "Mangalyaan" — launched in November 2013 and entered orbit around Mars in September 2014. The spacecraft conducted science in orbit around the Red Planet for eight years before contact with Earth was lost in 2022.

Related: Mars: Everything you need to know about the Red Planet

ISRO's follow-up Mars mission will be more ambitious, however. Jayadev Pradeep, a scientist with the Space Physics Laboratory at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, said during a recent webinar that a helicopter planned for a Mars landing mission will carry a suite of payloads for aerial exploration of the planet, India Today reported.

Planned science payloads for the drone include a temperature sensor, humidity sensor, pressure sensor, wind speed sensor, electric field sensor, and a trace species and dust sensor to measure vertical distribution of dust aerosols, according to the report.

The aerial vehicle is to be capable of flying up to 328 feet (100 meters) above the surface of Mars to profile the Martian atmosphere. For comparison, Ingenuity reached altitudes as high as 79 ft (24 m) during its more than two hours of total flight time and covered 10.5 miles (17 kilometers) of horizontal distance.

Ingenuity landed along with NASA's Perseverance rover in Mars' Jezero Crater in February 2021. It not only proved that flight was possible in the thin Martian atmosphere but far surpassed all expectations. Ingenuity's prime mission called for five technology-demonstrating flights, but the 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) chopper notched 72 Mars sorties before being permanently grounded by rotor-blade damage in January 2024. 

India is not the only nation taking inspiration from NASA and Ingenuity. China has at least a couple of concepts for Mars drones, including one that could play a role in the country's planned Mars sample return mission.

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Andrew Jones
Contributing Writer

Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI.

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