NASA’s mission to build life conditions and colonize Mars somewhere in a faraway future is slowly turning into a progressive reality. The first aircraft to fly the Martian skies is ready and it is shaped like a glider drone that launches from a descending rover, set to survey landing sites for the future human arrival on the Red Planet.
The vehicle is extremely lightweight, no more than 2.6 pounds on Earth, but the gravity of Mars will reduce it to 1 pound. The drone is light enough that it could travel up to 20 miles after starting at 2.000 feet right above the surface.
The prototype is based on the existing Prandtl-d, namely a radio controlled glider, imagined, designed and consequently built by a team of aerospace engineering students during a NASA internship, two years ago.
The next step for the delicate drone is to benefit from an upgraded design that will include foldable wings which will allow it to fit in a compact CubeSat, some kind of mini satellite. After being upgraded with wings, the mini satellite with Prandtl-m is expected to hitch a ride together with a Mars rover, be triggered into the atmosphere and glide to safety to take high resolution photos of the site as it flies. The device will be built with fiberglass or carbon fiber technology, to become a highly advanced, lightweight and adaptable piece of advanced engineering.
With the help of developed technology, NASA plans to send back to Earth extremely detailed, high-res photo map images that could offer scientists important clues about the suitability of landing sites on Mars.
If the initial testing will prove to be successful, the aircraft will be launched in an extended series of missions designed to imitate conditions for a deployment from a CubeSat on Mars. The team working on the experiment hopes it can succeed with a ride to Mars sometime around 2022 to 2024.
In its initial phase, the prototype is expected to complete a 450.000 foot drop. If the expectation meets realistic results, the project stands a great chance of being able to go to NASA headquarters and receive permission to ride to the Red Planet with one of the rovers.
The idea was inspired by a NASA Armstrong aeronautical engineer who specializes in propulsion and flow physics. Together with a friend, Dave Berger was discussing the chances to develop a student project and ultimately came up with the idea of creating a Martian drone.
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