As you can probably imagine, resources aren't always easy to find on the moon or on Mars. One reason for that is because some areas are just hard to reach for traditional rovers because there can be permanent shadow in the crater or its walls are too steep to climb. NASA is now working on a solution to this problem, which involves taking to the skies.
Swamp Works engineers are currently working on prototypes of flying robotic vehicles at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida that may be able to access these hard-to-reach places. NASA is calling these quadcopter-like machines Extreme Access Flyers, and they're meant to act as "a prospecting robot," as Swamp Works' senior technologist for advanced projects Rob Mueller puts it in a news post about the endeavor on NASA's website. The designers hope these vehicles will be able to navigate the shaded regions of a crater and collect soil samples to see if they match the water-ice detected by an orbiting spacecraft.
The Extreme Access Flyers are built similarly to the drones you would see here on Earth, except these are specially designed to operate in the thin atmosphere of Mars without the help of a GPS or being controlled from Earth. To do that, the vehicles have cold-gas jets that use oxygen or steam water vapor in place of rotors, and they are also being programmed to guide and recognize terrain and landmarks themselves. The machine would be able to recharge its own batteries and repellants in between flights on a lander that could also bring several vehicles to the surface at once.
The Swamp Works team has been testing several different types of models of the vehicle, but it ultimately envisions sending a flyer about five feet across with ducted fans in an operational mission in space. One of the models Swamp Works is currently working with is an Asteroid Prospector Flyer, which you can see being put to the test in a gimbal to demonstrate how it would move in anti-gravity in the video below.
In addition to exploring craters, the flyer would also be able to explore lava tubes on Mars, on the moon and on Earth. In the case of Mars, these tunnels found in volcanic areas could potentially provide a safe place for astronauts during their journey to that planet, according to NASA's news post. There's also potential for the Extreme Access Flyers to be used on Earth, such as helping first responders explore an area without putting humans at risk or gathering soil to measure the effects of a nuclear radiation leak on nearby areas.