NASA has developed its first boomerang shaped aircraft to lan on Mars surface in its lookout for future landing sites on Mars, which will be sent later this year.
The prototype spacecraft buillt with Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design called Prandtl-m will be launched from a high altitude of 100,000 feet altitude to replicate the surface conditions similar on the Red Planet, said Al Bowers, NASA Armstrong scientist who is in-charge of the program.
The maiden flight to Mars will simulate how a spacecraft works in Mars atmosphere as it is required to deploy a 3U Cubesat in the aeroshell of the plane. The CubeSat, a miniature U-class satellite is for research purpose in a cubical shape measuring 10 cm on each side and weighing t 1.3 kg with 1 litre in volume.
The aircraft “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 the suitability of those landing sites,” said Bowers.
Prandtl-m will fly for about 10 minutes on Mars and it will be in a glide mode when it descends to a height of 2,000 feet on Martian surface, said Bowers revealing that many colleges will be roped in to design the first plane to fly to Mars.
With a wingspan of 24 inches when it is deploye, weighing less than 2 kg, with Mars gravity 38 percent of what it is on Earth, “allows us up to 2.6 pounds and the vehicle will still weigh only 1 pound on Mars. It will be made of composite material, either fiberglass or carbon fiber,” explained Bowers.
NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program will fund two balloon flights during the next few years and potentially a sounding rocket flight following that to demonstrate how the flier would work on Mars, Bowers said.
The flights will be at one of two locations – Tucson, Arizona, or Tillamook, Oregon.
in addition, the test flight will take two small science payloads on the Prandtl-m including a mapping camera, a high-altitude radiometer to measure radiation.
In all, NASA is planning three such flights, one this year, second one next year and another later.
“If the Prandtl-m completes a 450,000-foot drop, then I think the project stands a very good chance of being able to go to NASA Headquarters and say we would like permission to ride to Mars with one of the rovers,” said Bowers.