This Aircraft Could Fly On Mars

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Exploring the surface of Mars quickly and efficiently seems like a difficult mission. That’s why NASA scientists have created the equally difficult to say Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design to Land on Mars, or Prandtl-m (which is still really hard to say as an acronym).

Prandtl-m is small and light, making it a negligible addition to the overall weight of the Mars mission. While the vehicle weighs 2.6 pounds on our planet, it only comes in at a single pound on our red-soiled neighbor since Martian gravity is only 38% as strong as the Earth’s.


Credits: NASA Photo / Ken Ulbrich

To do its mission over Mars, it will deploy from “a CubeSat (a small unmanned satellite) ballast aboard the aeroshell/Mars rover piggyback stack going to mars in 2022-2024” according to NASA’s website. This initial flight would last 10 minutes and cover 20 miles during the last 2,000 ft of descent.

Before it sees any action over Mars, Prandtl-m will first complete several trials over earth. The first is a drop from 100,000 feet to simulate conditions over the Martian landscape. The test flight will use GPS satellites for navigation. Before actual deployment over Mars, scientists will need to develop a new method to remotely pilot the small plane.


Credits: NASA Photo / Ken Ulbrich


The second trial will be a five hour flight from a weather balloon back to an initial launch site. The researchers plan on repeating the test by dropping a CubeSat container from the same height. Prandtl-m would then deploy from its host, unfold, and fly.

If the craft completes this appraisal successfully, a final 450,000 ft drop will test its ability to segue into flight while it is 110,000 and 115,000 feet above the Earth’s surface. NASA Headquarters may consider allowing it to ride with the a rover to Mars if this last hurdle is overcome.

If it proves capable, Prandtl-m would expand the range of the Mars mission significantly. NASA researchers are currently working side by side with community college students to test the prototype.

Featured Photo Credits: Credits: NASA Illustration / Dennis Calaba

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