Researchers and developers have already made a lot of progress and gained a lot of skill when it comes to using drones to explore hard-to-reach places on our planet. Now, a similar type of drones is being planned that could be crucial in order to explore other planets as well. These UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) are currently being planned at NASA’s Langley research centre in a project called Mars Electric Reusable Flyer, and if all goes well, one day, they will be sent to Mars.
For now, we only have one rover on the surface of Mars, and that’s a well-known Curiosity. Even though it’s stuck to the ground, it already helped in making some pretty great discoveries. For example, thanks to Curiosity, we now know that some time ago, Mars had conditions for supporting life as we know it. Still, Curiosity can only do so much since it’s can’t fly, and that’s why scientists aim to send another rover in 2020, and this one might bring along one of these new drones.
Several problems have already occurred, and the researchers are currently working on solving them. The biggest problem is how to make the drone fly when the conditions are that different than here on Earth. Even though Mars’s gravity is weaker than ours, which would theoretically allow it to fly easier, the Mars’s atmosphere is the problem, because the air is so thin that the drone’s rotor blades won’t have anything to push against. These conditions are expected to make the liftoff especially hard.
The scientists think that the weight of the drone and also the size of its blades will be what determines whether it will be able to fly or not. Another problem is different designs and the fact that it would take eight months to get them to mars in order to test them. Also, they must be created in such way that the electronics don’t get damaged in Mars’s environment.
The technology that’s being used in the development of these drones is the same one that was used for creating self-driving cars and the new autonomous robots. The Researchers from Langley are also creating new algorithms called SLAM (Simultaneous Linearization and Mapping) and visual odometry algorithms that should help with drone’s navigation.
Newest battery and motor technologies are also being included, and it’s expected that this tech will allow the drone to fly for longer periods of time, and also to recharge faster. Even with all of this, it’s expected that there will be many more problems that will only be discovered when the drone tries to fly on Mars for the first time.
Scientists are, for now, trying to create similar conditions to those on Mars and to test the drones here. The possibilities of a successful mission are endless, and these types of drones could help with mapping out the deepest corners of Mars and deep space.