NASA hopes to fly plane to Mars amid Ingenuity helicopter success

NASA hopes to one day fly an airplane or glider to Mars amid the continued success of the Ingenuity helicopter.

Development of some sort of Martian aircraft has been going on for several years in hopes that such a vehicle could collect atmospheric data or visual information. NASA experts provided more details in an Ask Me Anything session posted on Reddit on Monday.

David Berger, STEM Engagement Embed to Aeronautics at NASA Headquarters, confirmed that flying an airplane on Mars is possible and would face similar challenges to Ingenuity.

Berger said: “There have been many studies of aircraft both inside and outside of NASA. NASA’s ARES Mars aircraft is an example of this and led to a test in high-altitude flight here on Earth. NASA interns work on concept Mars glider.”

A Reddit user asked how engineers would go about flying a plane on the red planet. Shannah Withrow-Maser, Mars Science’s helicopter vehicle systems manager, replied that “almost anything is possible.”

Withrow-Maser said there are a number of challenges facing aircraft on Mars that a helicopter can more easily overcome, including that a helicopter is able to travel slower and also does not require a runway. .

The systems manager added: “Remember that air is only one percent as dense on Mars as it is on Earth, so generating enough speed is difficult for a typical aircraft. Due to the limited situation from the runway, some ideas that have been suggested are dropping a glider from a large vehicle or using a vehicle with both rotors and wings that could make the transition, but it’s difficult from a controls and lift to accomplish the transition in the Mars environment.”

Indeed, engineers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in 2017 came up with a Mars Flyer Concept that had both wings and rotors, and showed it flying in a YouTube video, below.

Meanwhile, the glider concept Berger is referring to is known as the Prandtl-M aircraft, or Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design to Land on Mars.

NASA provided an update on the Mars plane search in June 2020, when version 6.0 was built from resin, fiberglass and carbon fiber. It was the second of three vehicles to be searched.

The glider, which had a wingspan of 13 inches, was dropped from a larger model aircraft from a height of over 300 feet. Eventually, the three models will be dropped from a weather balloon at a height of approximately 100,000 feet to simulate their performance in the thin atmosphere of Mars.

NASA said: “A Prandtl-M could be the first aircraft to fly to Mars and several could be used in a swarm to collect atmospheric and visual information to guide decisions about future manned missions to the nearest planet. of the earth.”

A prototype Prandtl-M Mars aircraft flying in 2017. NASA scientists said it would be possible to fly a glider on Mars.
Lauren Hughes/NASA

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