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Out Of This World: Building Helicopters To Explore The Solar System

Engineers are using computer modeling to see how a helicopter might fly on Titan. Photo: Michael Kinzel
Engineers are using computer modeling to see how a helicopter might fly on Titan. Photo: Michael Kinzel

NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover launched last week carrying a stow-away -- a tiny helicopter named Ingenuity. If it works, it will be the first helicopter on another world and engineers and scientists are eagerly awaiting the results of the test flight, calling it Mars’ Wright Brother moment.

Ingenuity might be the first, but it certainly won’t be the last. Work is underway on another off-planet helicopter named Dragonfly, with a plan to send it to Saturn’s moon Titan in 2027.

So why helicopters? And what challenges must engineers overcome to fly on another world? We’ll speak with Mike Kinzel, an assistant professor in UCF’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering who’s working on the Dragonfly vehicle.

Then, a space-based telescope has discovered a planet orbiting two suns. They’re called circumbinary planets and if we were on the surface, we’d see a sunset similar to the fictional home of Luke Skywalker on Tatooine.

Our panel of expert scientists explain the physics of two-star systems and why they’re more common in the universe than we might expect.

Brendan Byrne is Central Florida Public Media's Assistant News Director, managing the day-to-day operations of the newsroom, editing daily news stories, and managing the organization's internship program.<br/><br/>Byrne also hosts Central Florida Public Media's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration.