NASA’s first boomerang shaped plane to fly on Mars later this year
The Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design to land on Mars (Prandtl-m), a flying wing aircraft with a twist, is designed to be ready to begin from a high altitude balloon for upcoming mission.
NASA is planning to launch first boomerang shaped spacecraft to the Mars that will identify potential landing sites for future manned mission on the red planet. A model of the Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design to Land on Mars, or Prandtl-m, which is a flying wing aircraft with a twist, is planned to be ready to begin from a high altitude balloon soon this year, at an altitude of 100,000 feet, simulating the flight conditions of the Martian atmosphere, Al Bowers, NASA Armstrong chief scientist and Prandtl-m programme manager said.
The first trip on the red planet could certify how aircraft works which finally will help scientists to necessary change required to fold and deploy from a 3U CubeSat in the aeroshell of a future Mars rover. A CubeSat is a mini satellite (U-class spacecraft) that is used for space research. It is cubical in shape with 10 cm side (1 liter in volume) and weighs at max 1.33 kilograms.
“The aircraft would be part of the ballast that would be ejected from the aeroshell that takes the Mars rover to the planet,” Bowers said. “It would be able to set up and fly in the Martian atmosphere and glide down and land. The Prandtl-m could overfly some of the planned landing sites for a future astronaut mission and send back to Earth very detailed high resolution photographic map images that could tell scientists about the suitability of those landing sites.”
Bowers is working with community college students during the summer to help design and build the experimental aircraft prior to high-altitude testing.
Bowers said “We’re going to build some vehicles and we are going to put them in very strange attitudes and see if they will pick up where other aircraft would not.” “Our expectation is that they will recover. As soon as we get that information, we will feel much better flying it from a high-altitude balloon.”
Once in the Martian atmosphere, the Prandtl-m would appear from its mass, deploy and begin its mission. “It would have a flight time of right around 10 minutes. The aircraft would be gliding for the last 2,000 feet to the surface of Mars and have a range of about 20 miles,” Bowers said.
If the two planned balloon drops are successful, NASA plans to launch the glider in a sounding rocket to an altitude of 450,000 feet. The actual aircraft, built of a composite material such as carbon fiber, would have a wingspan of 24 inches and weigh about 2.6 pounds on Earth. On Mars, where gravity is only 38 percent of Earth’s, the glider would weigh less than a pound.
NASA hopes the glider will travel on a Mars rover mission in eight to 10 years.