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The use of rovers has promoted the research of Mars greatly, but traveling at a rate of about 16 km every four and half years is quite limiting. For this reason exactly, NASA”s Research Center is looking at expanding that range by equipping future missions with autonomous aerial drones. These electric-powered aircraft would work in conjunction with rovers to cover much more ground with a quicker pace and to directly investigate interesting features some distance from base without having to depend on telescopic observation. According to vision.com, the futuristic development is still in the prototype stage.
The Mars drones are designed as rechargeable Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) aircrafts that would be able to carry out long-range missions without human intervention. NASA says that they are based on new motor and battery technologies that would enable multiple flights over large areas of the Red Planet and would carry advanced mapping and remote sensor systems.
The idea is that the drones would be sent to Mars using NASA’s base station lander and rover combination. A pair of electric-powered drones would be installed inside the rover, which would act as an inspector for the autonomous aircraft. When needed, the rover would use a robotic arm to place one of the drones on the ground. The would then take off and carry out its mission.
The Mars drones have already moved beyond the concept stage and prototypes are undergoing low-pressure chamber flight tests.
Other pilots are also going on at NASA; indoor and outdoor flight tests of other prototypes to develop flight surfaces and control systems for autonomous navigation, vertical take off, and transition between vertical and horizontal flight.
In addition to aiding unmanned missions, NASA sees such drones as acting as scouts for manned missions.