Nasa is sending the Mars helicopter – a small, autonomous rotorcraft that will travel with Mars 2020 rover mission scheduled to launch in July 2020. Scientists want to test how “heavier-than-air vehicles” will operate on the red planet, Nasa said in a release.

The remote-controlled Mars Helicopter is designed to take flight in the thin Martian atmosphere with twin counter-rotating blades. As according to Nasa, it weighs about four pounds (1.8 kilograms), with a fuselage the size of a softball, its blades will spin at almost 3,000 rpm, roughly 10 times the rate employed by helicopters on Earth.

The idea of a helicopter flying the skies of another planet is thrilling. The Mars Helicopter holds much promise for our future science, discovery, and exploration missions to Mars – Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator

After the helicopter is placed on the ground the rover will be directed to drive to a safe distance to relay commands. Controllers from Earth will deliver commands to the helicopter to take its first autonomous flight after its batteries are charged and tests are conducted. The mission of the helicopter is to demonstrate the viability and usefulness of such aircraft on Mars.

Nasa plans for a 30-day flight test period that will include up to five flights, starting with a short vertical jaunt to hover for about 30 seconds at an altitude of 10ft (3m). The helicopter contains a heating mechanism to keep it warm during frigid nights and solar cells to charge its lithium-ion batteries.

The atmosphere of the Mars is one percent that of Earth “so when our helicopter is on the Martian surface, it’s already at the Earth equivalent of 100,000ft (30,480m) up. – Mimi Aung, Mars Helicopter project manager, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

The Mars 2020 rover mission is scheduled to launch in July 2020 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and reach Mars in February 2021.