Why is NASA planning the first plane on Mars?
While the world’s attention towards space news was focused mainly on the furor of the third launch of the SpaceX rocket and its explosion as well as the planetary conjunction that would happen on Tuesday night, news was released about a future plane that could fly on Mars. This first plane on Mars news was released on the NASA website on the 29th of June. According to the post on their website, a prototype of the Preliminary Research Aerodynamics Design to Land on Mars is an aircraft that is shaped like an arrow without the stem attached.
What will it do?
The aircraft will be sent to Mars in order to survey the Mars landscape for likely places to land for future Mars missions. This intent to survey the still quite alien landscape is evident from the name of the aircraft. But first, the prototype must pass its first test at 100,000 feet high above Earth before it becomes the first plane on Mars. Once it survives the test at 100,000 feet in the sky, it will be tested a few more times to work out any additional kinks or add any other features before it is then ready to be sent to Mars. The high altitude is supposed to be very similar to the thin atmosphere present on Mars, thereby helping to gauge whether or not this aircraft will do its job sufficiently well on the red planet.
Al Bowers, the NASA Armstrong chief scientist and Prandtl-m program manager said, “The Prandtl-m could overfly some of the proposed 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.”
First plane on mars will get there via cubesat
The plan is that once it ready to be launched to Mars, the aircraft will be folded up and squeezed into a CubeSat, from which it can unfold and deploy. Also to be attached to that CubeSat is a Mars rover. But let’s take one thing at a time for now.