Exploring Mars isn’t easy. Satellite imagery lacks detail and rovers move slowly.
But researchers at the University of Arizona say they have a better concept that would cost a fraction of those technologies: an inflatable sailplane that weighs just 11 pounds and sports a wingspan of 18.7 feet, and cruises high above the Martian surface to survey the landscape with a bird’s-eye view.
The clever design, available as a preprint on the arXiv database, would travel to the Red Planet on a CubeSat. Then a small atmospheric entry spacecraft would bring it down to the Martian surface, where a telescopic boom would hold the sailplane up as it unfurls its rolled-up wing structure by pumping nitrogen gas into special compartments.
The paper's authors, all from the UA Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, are graduate students Adrien Bouskela and Aman Chandra, assistant professor Jekanthan Thangavelautham, and professor Sergey Shkarayev.