This remote controlled boomerang from NASA could be the first aircraft to fly on Mars

Sure, NASA’s been sending rovers to cruise around on the surface of Mars for years — but the space agency is finally getting ready for something a bit more ambitious. No, we don’t mean people. At least, not yet.

NASA is developing an aircraft they hope to eventually deploy on Mars for the purpose of additional mapping and exploration. Dubbed Prandtl-m, the titanium boomerang is being developed at the Armstrong Flight Research Center. The working model is relatively small, measuring just 24 inches across when deployed, and it weighs just one pound (the final version could double in weight and still fly all right in the lower gravity of Mars). 

The prototype is gearing up for a round of Earth-based testing soon, where it’ll be flown at high altitudes to see how it might manage in the much thinner atmosphere of the Red Planet. NASA plans to test the craft at 100,000 feet later this year, then eventually have a balloon take it up to 450,000 feet for a final logistics test. 

"The aircraft would be part of the ballast that would be ejected from the aeroshell that takes the Mars rover to the planet," program manager Al 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."

If the tests prove successful, NASA hopes to include the Prandtl-m in the next rover mission and have it deploy with the rover. The goal would be to fly the craft approximately 20 miles through the atmosphere then land, with the flight used to gather data and intel on potential landing sites for future manned missions. 

(Via NASA, The Verge)

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