NASA have been planning manned missions to planets for a long time and now it has finally shown the world its boomerang-shaped aircraft, which could potentially be the first ever to fly to Mars and look for landing sites.
The aircraft is called Prandtl-m Its name comes from Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design to Land on Mars. The Prandtl-m is a flying wing glider and the NASA’s plan is to launch it from a high altitude balloon later this year.
Al Bowers, NASA Armstrong chief scientist and Prandtl-m programme manager, said that the aircraft would be released at 100,000 feet altitude, which will simulate the flight conditions necessary for the Martian atmosphere.
The test will show how well the aircraft works and will help scientists modify it to fold and deploy from a 3U CubeSat (miniature satellites for space research) in the aero-shell of a future Mars rover.
CubeSats are about four inched in each dimension; a 3U means 3 of those put together.
“The aircraft would be part of the ballast that would be ejected from the aero-shell that takes the Mars rover to the planet,” Bowers said.
Bower added that this aircraft would be able to fly in Mar’s atmosphere and glide down and land on the surface. The aim is to send it out there so it captures detailed high-resolution visuals that would give scientists options of landing sites for future astronaut missions.
It will not be costly because Prandtl-m can just ride in a CubeSat as ballast aboard the Mars rover piggyback stack that will be going to Mars in 2022-2024.
Once they have reached Mar’s atmosphere, Prandtl-m can just deploy from the CubeSat and begin the mission.
It would be 10-minute flight; the aircraft will be gliding for the last of its 2,000 feet till it reaches the surface of Mars.
But before all of that can happen scientists have to develop a configuration for the first three tests that will be conducted on Earth.
NASA has called in some summer community college students to help design and build the aircraft that will be used in the first phase of the mission.
Bower said the plan is to build some vehicles and test them in very unusual altitudes and see of they are successful where other aircrafts usually fail. NASA is expecting them to successfully recover and as soon as the results are proven it will feel much better flying it from a high altitude balloon.