Human exploration of Mars has been the goal of various space programs for a very long time. Yet unable to send any manned aircraft to the planet, space agencies have been long trying to develop aircrafts that can glide the surface of Mars with an aim to explore this red planet of the solar system.
Recently, NASA revealed that they are almost ready to send the first NASA airplane to Mars later this year. The airplane, which mostly resembles a glider, is named “Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design to Land on Mars” shortly known as the “Prandtl-m”.
NASA said that they created this prototype based on Prandtl-d which is a radio controlled glider built by aerospace engineering students who were doing their internship in NASA during 2012 and 2013.
According to NASA Armstrong chief and Prandtl-m program manager Al Bowers, Prandtl-m will be ready to be launched from a high altitude balloon later in 2015. It will be released from a high altitude of about 100,000 feet to simulate the Martian Atmospheric condition.
NASA is trying to modify the Prandtl-m with foldable wings to fit it into a mini satellite, CubeSat. These CubeSats are four inches tiny shelled cubes with functioning satellites inside. Prandtl-m will be deployed to Mars within these satellites. According to Al Bowers, NASA scientist and Prandtl-m program manager, initial success in testing the Prandtl-m could lead it to become the first NASA airplane to fly over Mars within 2024. But at first it needs to complete a 450,000 foot drop to the surface of mars and survive. To endure the atmosphere of Mars, it will be made of fibreglass or carbon fibre. It also will be lightweight, fewer than 3 pounds, to be able to glide in a gravitational force much less than the Earth’s.
NASA will be funding two balloon drop tests for this aircraft in the later years and the scientist are hoping to modify it completely to roam the red planet by then. The first test fight will also serve the purpose of some scientific research. This plane will be operated from the Earth to fly over Mars’s surface and inspect the proposed landing sites where the future manned missions could land. It will be controlled much like a drone.
Initially, tracking will be done through GPS. But the scientists will have to find a better option for navigation since GPS technology will not work at the surface of Mars. It will be taking high resolution images of the planet’s surface which will substantially contribute to finding the suitable landing site for men in the future. The flights will be launched from any of the following two locations- Tuscon, Arizona or Tillamook, Oregon.