NASA has a new plan to explore Mars but it doesn't include sending humans. Instead, it involves sending robot bees to the red planet. NASA announced that it would be funding research to study the possibility of using robot bees to gather data from Mars.
It would provide an alternative to the bulky rovers that have proven to be very expensive.
NASA has called the new exploration concept Marsbee. It involves sending a swarm of flapping wing flyers to Mars, but it would still involve sending a rover. The rover would serve as the mobile base for the swarm of Marsbees.
NASA describes the Marsbees as robotic flapping wing flyers that are the size of bumblebees with cicada sized bees. To communicate with the rover, they would be integrated with sensors and wireless communication devices. Marsbees would be able to recharge at the rover and it would serve as the main communication center.
In the statement about the Marsbees, NASA says that the swarm of robots would be able to significantly enhance the exploration of Mars. It would allow them to reconfigure sensor networks, create resilient systems, and it would allow NASA to gather data or samples using a single or swarm of Marsbees.
NASA touts technical innovation in the design of the Marsbees by using insect-like wings to enhance the aerodynamics of the robots, and it would be a low power design. Its preliminary research says that the design allows it to generate sufficient lift to be able to hover in the Martian atmosphere.
It also says that the Marsbees would allow the agency to have more flexibility.
This program would be a joint collaboration with a Japanese team so that it can address the aspects of flapping wing light the atmosphere of Mars. NASA's U.S. team would be located at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. It will numerically model, analyze, and optimize a flapping flyer for Martian atmospheric conditions.
In the statement, NASA doesn't mention who the Japanese team will be. It does say that their job will be to develop and test the micro flapping robot. NASA says that it will be uniquely designed and constructed for the low-density atmosphere on Mars.
NASA says that the hummingbird Micro-Air Vehicle that has been developed by the Japanese team is one of the few robotic flappers in the world that can fly.
This would be the first phase of the project. Phase I would work to determine whether the design, motion, and weight of the flyer would be able to work in the atmospheric conditions of Mars.
NASA has been working on a different project regarding Mars, it previously tested a supersonic parachute. Private space companies are also interested in the planet, and Elon Musk released his plan for colonizing Mars.