Could a Plane Fly on Mars?!
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and the second-smallest planet in the Solar System, after Mercury. Named after the Roman God of War, it is often referred to as the “Red Planet” because the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance. Mars is a terrestrial planet with a thin atmosphere, having surface features reminiscent both of the impact craters of the Moon and the valleys, deserts, and polar ice caps of Earth.
The rotational period and seasonal cycles of Mars are likewise similar to those of Earth, as is the tilt that produces the seasons. Mars is the site of Olympus Mons, the largest volcano, and second-highest known mountain in the Solar System, and of Valles Marineris, one of the largest canyons in the Solar System. The smooth Borealis basin in the northern hemisphere covers 40% of the planet and may be a giant impact feature. Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos, which are small and irregularly shaped. These may be captured asteroids, similar to 5261 Eureka, a Mars Trojan.
Mars is very cold. The average temperature on Mars is minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit — way below freezing!
Scientists have sent rovers to trundle across Martian land, and they have launched satellites to orbit the Martian atmosphere. But what about the skies in the middle? In order to study this in-between realm, NASA has created a prototype aircraft to soar through the Martian skies. NASA’s aspiration is to have the airplane launch from a high-altitude balloon over the Red Planet in the 2020s. This prototype plane is shaped like a boomerang, but there’s no chance of it coming back to Earth. This is strictly a one-way trip.
The tiny airplane is designed to be so light that it could happily piggyback on a Mars rover, meaning they could travel from Earth to Mars together. The weight of the airplane is so small – just one pound – that it wouldn’t add to the cost of a rover mission. This makes it a valuable and versatile add-on for many missions to Mars, and maybe even other planets. In order to help Prandtl-m survive ejection from the rover backpack as it enters Mars’ atmosphere, the final aircraft will be made from robust but light materials: fiberglass or carbon fiber.
The projected flight plan would be for Prandtl-m to glide over the surface of Mars after it’s been ejected, staying airborne for about 10 minutes. The plane would have a flight range of roughly 32 kilometers (20 miles).
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