NASA is planning to send first boomerang shaped spacecraft to the Mars that will identify potential landing sites for future manned mission on the red planet. According to reports, prototype of the Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design to Land on Mars, or Prandtl-m will be launched from high altitude later this year.
Al Bowers, NASA Armstrong chief scientist and Prandtl-m programme manager, said that the spacecraft will be launched nearly at 1,00,000 feet altitude. He further added that the high altitude will replicate the flight conditions of the Martian atmosphere.
The first flight on the red planet could validate how aircraft works which eventually will help scientists to necessary modification required to fold and deploy from a 3U CubeSat in the aeroshell of a future Mars rover.
A CubeSat is a miniature satellite (U-class spacecraft) that is used for space research. It is cubical in shape with 10 cm side (1 liter in volume) and weighs at max 1.33 kilograms.
“The aircraft would be part of the ballast that would be ejected from the aeroshell that takes the Mars rover to the planet,” Bowers said. “It would be able to deploy and fly in the Martian atmosphere and glide down and land. The Prandtl-m could overfly some of the proposed landing sites for a future astronaut mission and send back to Earth very detailed high resolution photographic map images that could tell scientists about the suitability of those landing sites.”
Prandtl-m will have flight time of around 10 minutes and it will glide during last 2,000 feet to Martian surface. Bowers said that several college students would also join in designing and building the spacecraft for the first phase of the mission.