MARSDROP: Using Microprobes To Explore Mars

NASA is launching another project by the name of MARSDROP. This expedition involves two small landers that would be attached to a much larger spacecraft. The said landers are detachable and will use a parawing to steer tiny microprobes to explore Mars, going to places where larger probes are not able to go.

The idea of the microprobes came from Rebecca Williams, a senior at the Planetary Science Institute, in collaboration with Matthew Eby, who is at the Aerospace Corporation. Robert Staehle and a team of engineer’s with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California, also helped with this new project, which is already in the works. The first prototype to allow microprobes to explore Mars has already been tested. Terrain-relative video navigation was used so that scientists could actually steer the microprobes to a desired spot. Because the probes are so small, they can explore parts of Mars, such as glaciers and fresh impact craters.

The microprobes can be equipped with several instruments such as cameras, weather sensors and microscopes to help them study Mars. Minerals, as well as inorganic substances will be studied to gather data like never before. This will help scientists know what humans would need in order to actually live on the planet. Scientists will also have access to Mars’ surface geology. If this works, MARSDROP would be, in theory, able to help explore other planets such as Venus.

Using Old Technology for Microprobes to Explore Mars

The space vehicles Gemini and Apollo had parawings, but they were never deployed in the 1960s. The actual lifting action lets a vehicle almost glide across a path, reducing the velocity of the landing. In addition, it is steering capable, allowing people to control the craft.

However, there are some challenges when using parawing. For example, they can start to kick like a mule while being inflated. Packing can also be an issue and with over 275 feet of rope, there is room for mistakes. Luckily, there are lightweight instruments that can handle the parawings better than a human or astronaut would be able to.

To see more microbial Mars exploration pictures, visit this gallery here!