Copyright © 2003 by Andrew A. Gonzales.
Published by The Mars Society with permission
DEVELOPMENT OF A USEFUL MARS AIRPLANE EXPLORATION CONCEPT
AT NASA / AMES RESEARCH CENTER
Andrew A Gonzales
Cheryle J. Corpus
NASA / Ames Research Center, Advanced Space Projects Branch
David W. Hall
Robert W. Parks
Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, Aeronautical Engineering Department
An airborne platform is well suited to exploration of planetary bodies with atmospheres, such as Mars, Venus, and possibly Titan. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV's) are a high growth terrestrial technology area applicable to planetary science missions. An airplane's range for exploration is greater than for surface platforms. Due to closer surface proximity, the resolution for airplane mounted instruments is greatly improved over orbiter mounted instruments. The variety of terrain accessible to an airplane is greater than for most surface platforms. An airplane is capable of correcting for atmospheric entry errors. The public outreach potential for an airplane mission is also very high. Airplane concepts have risks associated with deployment, flight conditions, and data return. These risks are being addressed through aggressive testing and technology development work, including flight tests in Mars-like conditions. The Mars airplane concept began in 1977 as a follow-on to the Viking project. Studies and tests were conducted at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and NASA / Ames Research Center's (ARC) Dryden Facility. During the last seven years, the pace of development has accelerated rapidly due to work by an ARC team including Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo (SLO), and the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). These efforts have resulted in two Discovery Mission proposals from ARC and have spawned efforts from other teams, resulting in additional testing and mission proposals. The work has focused on four areas: 1) flight in severe and demanding aerodynamic conditions, 2) packaging the airplane for space travel, atmospheric entry, and deployment, 3) mission performance, and 4) data return. ARC has extensively studied the close interrelationship between these factors. Continued development of Mars airplanes at ARC and other locations, including more flight tests, will provide a useful tool for extraterrestrial robotic exploration and can provide capability augmentation for future human Mars exploration.