NASA has announced that it’s currently developing the first aircraft that will be used for flying to Mars. According to NASA, the prototype for the first aircraft for Mars is known as the “Prandtl-m”, which is short for Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design to Land on Mars. The aircraft will first be test launched using a 100,000 feet high altitude balloon at the end of 2015.
The first aircraft for Mars is not complete yet and judging by the photos released by the space agency, it resembles a boomerang that has a wingspan of about 24 inch. The NASA scientists said the flying machine is made of carbon fiber or fiber glass and weighs a little less than a pound. NASA explained that because the Red Planet has less gravity compared to Earth, the aircraft doesn’t need to be very light in order to fly in an efficient mode.
NASA officials said the first aircraft for Mars must be tested prior to sending it on the Red Planet because they need to determine whether the flying machine is capable of functioning at such high altitude, especially since Mars’ atmosphere is thinner than Earth’s.
The scientists will run additional tests next year to see if the Prandtl-m prototype can fly at an altitude of 450,000 feet and higher. Further tests will be conducted after this, the scientists believe, to make sure everything is in order before sending it to Mars.
If the aircraft passes all the tests successfully, NASA will fly it to Mars inside a 3U CubeSat sometime around the years 2022 and 2024.
Al Bowers, one of the NASA scientists in charge of the Prandtl-m project, explained the aircraft will be part of the ballast that will be ejected out of the aeroshell responsible for taking the Mars rover to the Red Planet. The aircraft would then deploy and fly into the Mars atmosphere, glide and land. The plan is to have the aircraft fly over the landing sites which are meant for future missions, take high resolution photos of the surroundings and send it back to Earth. This would help the scientists learn more about how suitable the landing sites are for astronaut missions.
According to Bowers, the concept behind the Prandtl-m prototype belongs to his colleague Dave Berger, who works for NASA as an aeronautical engineer, and is specialized in propulsion and flow physics.
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