Nasa has been using their Land Curiosity Rovers to explore the surface of the red planet. These rovers have gotten pretty smart and Nasa has more than a decade experience in directing these rovers to drill surface, capture images, drive over various obstacles and in some cases identifying and analyzing the target. But these machines are limited to the ground and they are so slow that they only cover 16 km (10 mi) in four and a half year.
Nasa has a plan and is working on an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) for Martian surface. We already know that these flying drones are very helpful for researching hard-to-reach areas of the Earth, however, they could likewise be essential for investigating different planets. Currently, aerial imaging is only available through satellites but they orbit several miles above.
The Drones will be able to provide the solution for all these problems. The concept is that these drones will fly autonomously as there is a 10 minutes delay between the time a command is issued on Earth and when it is received on Mars, this delay is due to the huge distance between the two planets. The drone will have to know when to fly and cross obstacles and when to land when it is low on power to reach the rover for recharge.
Engineers at Nasa’s Langley Research Center have developed a prototype of such drone, these Electrically powered aircraft are designed as rechargeable Vertical TakeOff And Landing (VTOL) aircraft. The drone will make its own decisions about how to avoid obstacles and where to land using advanced mapping and remote sensor systems. The idea is that a pair of the drone would be sent to Mars using Nasa’s Curiosity Rover which would also act as the charger for the drones. According to a video by Nasa, the rover would use a robotic arm to take out one of the drones and place it on the surface. The drone will then take off for its flight. These drones will be able to explore deep canyons and lava tubes and other complex areas which are not possible to be explored by rovers.
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The prototype drones are specially adapted to the thin atmosphere of Mars. The drone blades are much longer and have great speed for flying in Martian skies. The surface gravity on Mars is only about 38% of the surface gravity on Earth, so this will help the drone in taking longer flights without needing it to return to the base for recharge.
The prototypes have been recently been tested in the low pressure chamber. There is a slight chance that these drones will be taken to Mars by 2020, if it happens it would help cover large regions of the planet for scientific investigation or could even map routes of scouting missions for potential human outposts. This will revolutionize the scientific study and will help reveal unknown corners of the space.