For the future of Mars exploration is best suited Glider
Over the past few decades, Mars has become the most explored planet in the Solar System (after the Earth). He received dozens of visitors. The eight missions are currently working on the Red Planet. The oldest of them arrived in 2001 - the orbiter Mars Odyssey, he worked until 2025. It is planned to further missions, both from NASA's, and other space agencies - to bring back samples from the surface of Mars to Earth and eventually send people there.
What happens after the "Opportunity"? Most likely, the inflatable device using thermal updrafts, which can remain in the air. It will allow inexpensively and efficiently mapped until the designated portions of the surface of the planet, which will help in the planning of landing missions.
Glider for Mars exploration
New missions require detailed maps of the surface. Rovers allow to make these cards, but pass only a few meters per day. Rover NASA "Opportunity" drove an impressive 45 kilometers in the course of his mission, but it took nearly 15 years.
Therefore, planetary scientists are looking for ways to explore the surface of the planet more energetic. One of the options - to run the aircraft into the atmosphere of Mars with an engine capable of supporting it in the air. This mission will be able to cover great distances, but is expensive - from $ 350 million.
A cheaper approach would be to send a mission more. Thus, another idea is to send a rover to the quadrocopter, who can explore the surrounding area. But such flights would be limited and short.
What is needed is transport, which will be small enough that it can be used to perform other missions and at the same time to travel long distances. A few days ago Adrien Buskela Aman Chandra and colleagues at the University of Arizona stated that developed just such a mission. Their idea is to launch the glider without power in the Martian atmosphere and maintain it on the fly with the help of thermal thermals - rising columns of warm air. Glider is inflatable and can fit into a small enough volume that it can be transported as the payload when the more serious mission on Mars.
But first, a little background is. The spacecraft, which is currently on Mars orbit able to take pictures with a resolution of 30 centimeters per pixel. Planetary gradually collect them from the map the surface of Mars in high resolution.
However, they need even more high-quality images to plan for future landing mission. Until today, the majority of devices were planted on a relatively flat plains, where the probability of collision with boulders or crater was small. These areas tend to be less interesting from a scientific point of view. Instead, the planetary geologists would like to visit the valleys and ridges formed by water. Safe landing in such places require accurate visualization display devices of small stones and craters which could damage the device in contact.
Planting modules provide this level of detail, since they can take pictures with resolution of 1 centimeter per pixel in the 100-meter area around itself. But they are unable to travel long distances required to achieve the interests of the regions. That's why scientists have turned their attention to the flying machine.
The flight to Mars - a complicated thing. Although gravity is low, only a third of the Earth, the Earth's atmosphere is denser than a hundred times. Cravings create very difficult. The wings of the new glider should be large relative to its weight. Glider will carry a 5 megapixel camera, radio communications, on-board computer and a few solar panels with batteries to store energy during the day and stay in the night. Buskela and colleagues have calculated that, in addition to inflatable fenders and handlebars Glider will carry 5 kilograms - the mass of the golden eagle.
Then they calculated that in order to maintain this weight afloat, the wings need a sweep of about 6 meters, and the machine will be able to fly at 100 meters per second speed. For comparison, golden eagles in the world can plan with a wingspan of 2 meters when flying at a speed of 15 meters per second.
Glider be deployed during the main mission of entry into the atmosphere of Mars and disconnected from the main load at a height of about 2 kilometers. Nitrogen generator inflate and create a pressure in the glider in less than 10 seconds, and its wings are firm for about an hour, under the action of sunlight Mars.
Inflatable technologies such as these have been tested on Mars. As Mars Pathfinder module and rovers Mars MER relied on air bags are inflated by the descent in the atmosphere, and then soften impact on the ground. They were also developed for small communications satellites.
An important part of the mission will be an autonomous ability to use the updrafts in the Martian atmosphere. Such systems in the world have demonstrated the ability to stay afloat in a matter of weeks or months.
If Mars is the wind profile, like Earth, that is, the change in wind speed and height, and then earth approach will work on the Red Planet. Scientists have carried out numerical modeling of these types of operations on Mars.
These results suggest that the autonomous flight will be able to maintain the glider afloat for long periods of time, it provided a sufficiently large change in wind speed and height. The only question is whether the airframe can survive on Mars for a year. However, even a few hours of flight can generate valuable data. The camera on board will have to have a surface resolution of 10 centimeters, and at a speed of 100 meters per second, the glider will fly over many hundreds of kilometers. He will send the image to the space station like the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which will then send them home.
Such a mission could shed light on a number of long-standing mysteries of Mars. One of these - the mysterious lines on the slopes of Mars which occur during warming and the onset of summer. It is believed that this salt water streams, but need better surveillance.
Glider could also identify potential landing sites for future missions. Due to the speed of the surface of the research, he could at an accelerated pace to map.
What's missing from the team of engineers, so it's a Hollywood flavor. The most successful missions have always been the ones that produce the most iconic paintings. Neil Armstrong standing next to an American flag on the surface of the moon or a star traveler Elon Musk, sitting behind the wheel of the Tesla, which flies away from Earth. This kind of images play an important role in the public perception.
Gliders need a wide-angle camera on the tail, which will send back to Earth pictures. What do you think, worth it? Tell us in our chat in the telegram.