China’s Concept for a Martian Helicopter Seems Awfully Familiar

Well, imitation is supposedly the greatest form of flattery.

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A prototype of China’s Mars cruise drone.
A prototype of China’s Mars cruise drone.
Image: CNNSC

China’s National Space Science Center is working on an aerial drone that bears a striking resemblance to NASA’ Ingenuity helicopter, currently on Mars. It’s got four outstretched wiry legs, two rotors stacked atop each other, and a simplified fuselage. It’s China’s take on NASA’s wildly successful aerial drone.

A press release from China’s National Space Science Center suggests the vehicle, called the “Mars cruise drone,” has passed acceptance and will presumably advance to the next stage of development. Eventually, the Chinese aerial drone could make it to Mars, where it will patrol the landscape and further China’s exploration of the Red Planet. To that end, the Mars cruise drone will be equipped with a spectrometer for performing aerial surveys and for studying the Martian geology.

Andrew Jones from SpaceNews had the best take on this unabashed attempt to clone NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter. “The fun way to put it would be that it is the opposite of ‘Ingenuity,’” as he wrote on Twitter. A very good, albeit obvious, burn.

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For sure, it’s a blatant copy of NASA’s design, but there’s no mistaking China’s intentions in space. The country is making rapid progress, and it’s quickly catching up to the other major players in space exploration.

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China has sent rovers to the Moon and Mars, and it’s currently building its own space station, called Tiangong (“Heavenly Palace”). More ambitiously, China hopes to send a crewed mission to Mars in 2033 and even build an “ultra-large spacecraft” that would extend for miles (yep, you read that right).

China, of course, is not the only copycat when it comes to space. The Soviets had their own Space Shuttle (known as Buran, but it never flew to space), and Russia recently disclosed its design for a reusable rocket, which looked exactly like SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

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Hey, if you can’t beat ‘em, you must sometimes join ‘em. Maybe in future NASA might copy a Chinese or Russian design, but only time will tell.

More: NASA’s Helicopter Totally Flipped Out During Its Sixth Flight on Mars