NASA's New Mars Drones Could Make Rovers Obsolete

Friday, 17 November 2017 - 3:43PM
Mars
Robotics
Friday, 17 November 2017 - 3:43PM
NASA's New Mars Drones Could Make Rovers Obsolete
Image credit: YouTube
Robots have turned up exciting discoveries on the surface of Mars, but robotic rovers like Curiosity will only take us so far. What if we could see more of the Red Planet than we ever dreamed possible?

Up to this point, NASA's Mars missions been hampered by the limited range of a rover, with its most famous bot Curiosity having traveling only slightly further than 10 miles in five years. A drone designed specifically for Mars' harsh environment could cover much more ground, but it's the Martian air—or lack of it—that complicates the concept, with its thin atmosphere that won't support parachutes or standard wing design.
 
The Mars Institute, an international non-profit research organization, along with the SETI Institute, and FYBR Solutions Inc. Internet of Things (IoT) solutions providers are forming a partnership for the "research and development of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone technologies and applications for future Mars exploration."

"We've been investigating the use of robotic aircraft for Mars exploration on the HMP since 1998," said Dr. Pascal Lee, Planetary Scientist at the SETI Institute. "This new partnership with FYBR will expand our investigation of the wide range of technologies and applications for UAVs on Mars."

 
Mars has an average surface pressure of 10 millibars, which equals that found on Earth in the stratosphere at an altitude of approximately 100,000 feet (30 km). Flight is possible on Mars, and scientists believe rotorcraft might hold the most potential for future drone use. NASA is reportedly considering a "robotic helicopter scout system" for its Mars 2020 mission, while NASA's Langley Research Center is working on an electric flyer. 

"Rotorcraft are a great way to explore Mars...On the HMP ("Haughton-Mars Project"), we're putting drones through practical field tests of the many applications we envision for them on Mars," Dr. Lee added. 

The Haughton-Mars Project takes place at a NASA research facility located on Devon Island, the world's largest uninhabited island.

Located in northern Canada, the island has the isolation, freezing temperatures and barren terrain to provide a landscape that might mirror some of the galaxy's less-inviting worlds, like Mars.



Bill Diamond, President and CEO of the SETI Institute says that there "is little doubt that UAVs will play a critical role in future Mars exploration, enabling significantly extended reach and terrain coverage than is achievable by rovers alone." 

Editor's Note: an earlier version of this article inadvertently linked a different site to FYBR Solutions. That has since been amended.
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NASA's New Mars Drones Could Make Rovers Obsolete
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