NASA is getting closer and closer by the day to further exploring the Red Planet. And now, the space agency has released photos of an aircraft prototype that may just end up being the first one to ever fly the skies of Mars in the not too distant future.
The photos were released earlier this week, on Monday (June 29, 2015), and reveal a vehicle that looks nothing like the ones Hollywood movies have gotten us used to. It does not look like a jet and it does nit look like a flying frisbee.
Instead, NASA engineers developed an aircraft that looks kind of like a boomerang, or a typical glider. It sports a shade of silver and is adorned with the space agency’s logo on one of its wings.
As far as the materials go, the aircraft is designed to be built from a strong yet lightweight material. Some of the ones the expers are considering include carbon fiber and fiberglass. The estimated weight using one of these is only 2.6 pounds (1.2 kilograms).
The technology is dubbed Prandtl-m, which is an abbreviation for Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design to Land on Mars, and tests are set to start later this year.
To begin with, NASA will be launching Prandtl-m from a balloon sitting at high altitudes. The aircraft is going to be set free to roan the skies of Earth somewhere at 100.000 feet (30,480 meters) up, where the flight conditions are believed to mimic those found on planet Mars, and should provide researchers with a good sense of how the aircraft will perform on the Red Planet.
Some of the tests that the NASA researchers will be conducting are meant to inform them on how to modify the aircraft’s wings so that they could be folded and enable the vehicle to fit inside a small, compact 3U CubeSat. The experts want to use the CubeSat as a means of deploying Prandtl-m.
Al Bowers, Prandtl-m program manager and NASA chief scientist, gave a statement informing that one of the most important functions the aircraft will have will be to fly over some of the landing sites that are being considered for a future mission that involves taking the next step and sending astronauts to explore the Martian surface.
Prandtl-m is expected to take high-resolution and very detailed photo maps of these spots and send them back to Earth for researchers to assess just how feasible they really are as landing sites.
He went on to add that if the aircraft gets through all of the initial tests, including a 450.000-foot drop, this would convince him and his colleagues to take the project to NASA’s headquarters and say that they would like to have permission to ride to Mars along with one of the rovers.
Right now, the team hopes that Prandtl-m will find itself on the Red Planet somewhere between 2022 and 2024.
Dr David Miller himself, Nasa’s chief technologist, gave a statement informing that NASA truly sees their Mars mission as a way for humanity to constantly move out into our solar system, not just to go and grab a rock or plant a flag. The goal is to turn human beings into a multi-planet species.
Image Source: nasa.gov