January 29, 2004

More range than a rover

Spirit and Opportunity are on the surface and doing their thing. Despite some problems, the fact that we can successfully land and communicate with two robot vehicles on another planet over 40,000,000 miles away says a lot.

Knowing that more that a couple of rovers are in the works, I went digging over at Rocket Man's blog, looking for a certain something we'd talked about...

A couple of weeks ago, Ted from Rocket Jones also sent me an email about a Mars Airplane currently being developed under the Mars Scout Mission program –

Manassas, VA. Aurora Flight Sciences Corp. announced today an order from the NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., for a full-scale prototype of a proposed Mars airplane. The aircraft is being built as part of the Mars Scout Aerial Regional-Scale Environmental Survey (ARES) project of which Dr. Joel S. Levine is the Principal Investigator.

In 2002 Aurora and NASA Langley successfully demonstrated a half-scale version of the airplane in a series of low altitude and high altitude drop tests. The new airplane is to be a full-scale version, designed to demonstrate flight-weight components and actual aerodynamics. The prototype plane is scheduled to make its first flight later this year with a deployment test in the upper reaches of the EarthÂ’s atmosphere.

Ted was lucky enough to actually see some of the projects Aurora Flight Sciences Corp is working on as he told me in the email -

The reason I know about these people is that the owner of the company and his kids are in our rocket club. Good people, as they say. I've been in Aurora's building and all of the hardware and projects are probably like Disneyland to an engineer. To me, it was just cool.

That's right, they're well into developement of a semi-remote controlled robotic glider aircraft that will soar the skies of Mars, mapping and using radar to gather yet more data about the red planet.

There are some intriguing video clips of the testing at the Aurora site. One in particular clearly showed the tail surfaces unfolding after being released from the high altitude balloon which carried it aloft.

The reason for the extreme altitude testing is because the atmosphere of Mars is very thin compared to earth. The ARES glider will actually fly much closer to the surface once it deploys on Mars.

Posted by: Ted at 06:45 AM | category: Space Program
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