We are constantly trying to research planets other than our own. NASA Armstrong innovations have made it possible for NASA to operate a drone with a 10 minute flight time in the Martian atmosphere. With this innovation NASA hopes to expand human reach beyond rovers and help to collect important data. This aircraft would be ready for its first flight on Mars in 2020.
A prototype of the Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design to Land on Mars, or Prandtl-m, which is a flying wing aircraft with a twist, is planned to ready for launch from a hight altitude balloon later this year. The Prandtl-m will be released at about 100,000 feet altitude, which will simulate the flight conditions of the Martian atmosphere, said Al Bowers, NASA Armstrong chief scientist and Prandtl-m program manager.
“The aircraft would be part of the ballast that would be ejected from the aeroshell that takes the Mars rover to the planet,” Bowers said. “It would be able to deploy and fly in the Martian atmosphere and glide down and land. The Prandtl-m could overfly some of the proposed landing sites for a future astronaut mission and send back to Earth very detailed high resolution photographic map images that could tell scientists about eh suitability of those landing sites.” The prototype will be launched in several tests, including GPS guidance. These tests will keep the glider airborne for five hours as it guides itself back to base, carrying a mapping camera and a high altitude radiometer. Further tests will be conducted using a sounding rocket, which will drop the aircraft from a height of 450,000 feet. Upon reaching a prescribed altitude, the drone will deploy, simulating a landing on Mars. The craft would be expected to cover 20 miles of Martian surface if left to start flying from an altitude of 2,000 feet.
The drone could be the first man-made object to take flight in the skies of Mars. Measuring just 24 inches across in wingspan, the Prandtl-m is a glider drone, and is intended to be launched from a rover during its descent to the surface of Mars. It will be constructed of a lightweight but strong material like fibreglass or carbon fiber bringing its weight to 2.6 lbs on Earth and a single pound on Mars. Future design plans for the prototype include making the wings able to be folded to fit into a CuteSat, the small satellite that may deliver the craft on missions.