President Donald Trump's support and a whopping $19.5 billion funding for NASA seem to have bolstered the space agency's morale and enthusiasm. NASA is reportedly looking to unleash some new technology on Martian soil to scout for signs of life.
To facilitate human exploration on Mars, engineers and scientists at NASA's Langley Research Center are developing an aerial drone. The project, dubbed Mars Electric Flyer, will search parts of the planet, which are not conducive to human exploration.
Mars Electric Flyer: NASA'S Unmanned Drone
The Mars Electric Flyer is being made keeping in consideration Mars' thin atmosphere. NASA will not only deploy the unmanned drone to scour difficult-to-reach locales on the planet, but also to seek out areas for possible human habitation.
The autonomous aircraft will work in tandem with ground-based rovers, which will lend researchers greater flexibility in terms of exploration. The electric-powered drone will be constructed using lightweight materials.
Researchers are looking forward to sending the drone to explore highly inaccessible areas on Mars, such as the planet's deep canyons and lava tubes.
The engineers at Langley have also prepared a concept video of the unmanned drone, which will help people understand its capabilities better.
"Imagine being able to survey more parts of another planet like Mars than ever before. Orbiters and rovers have been successful so far but engineers keep looking for new ways to gather information. One way may be by using an unmanned aerial vehicle like this Mars Flyer concept," notes the description of the drone concept video on YouTube.
Features Of Mars Electric Flyer
The Mars Electric Flyer will take off and land vertically. It will autonomously navigate itself using visual odometry and SLAM, or Simultaneous Linearization and Mapping, algorithms that Langley researchers are developing. For the drone to take up long-range mission on Martian climate, the UAV will be equipped with state-of-the-art battery and motor technologies.
The drones will also deploy a remote sensor system, as well as advanced mapping technologies to fuel smooth navigation and assist in site detection.
Imagine being able to survey more of another planet like Mars than ever before, via a new concept, the Mars Flyer, a robotic aerial vehicle pic.twitter.com/8BMnu4Bfvb
— NASA (@NASA) April 1, 2017
The Mars Electric Flyer will be transported to the Red Planet aboard a NASA rover. A robotic arm of the rover will release the drone on the planet's surface.
Mars Electric Flyer: Possible Hurdles For The Drone
The primary concern and hurdle that the engineers have to tackle is getting the drone to fly on Mars, which has different atmospheric conditions compared to Earth.
Considering Mars has 3/8 the gravity of Earth — as well as the fact that the Red Planet's atmosphere is quite thin — lifting off the drone may prove to be a challenge for NASA engineers. Moreover, the Mars Electric Flyer will also have to grapple with the harsh climate and environment.
Currently, the UAV is in the prototype stage and is being examined in chamber flight tests at Langley.
Watch the concept video of the Mars Electric Flyer below.