A future glider is best suited for future exploration of Mars.

Over the past few decades mars has becomethe most studied planet in the solar system (after the earth). He received dozens of visitors. Eight missions are currently working on the Red Planet. The oldest of them arrived in 2001 - the Mars Odyssey orbiter, it will work until 2025. More missions are planned, both from NASA and other space agencies, to return samples from the surface of Mars to Earth and, ultimately, send people there.

What will happen after Opportunity? Most likely, an inflatable apparatus that uses thermal upflows, which can remain in the air. It will allow inexpensive and effective mapping of non-marked sections of the planet’s surface, which will help in planning landing missions.

Glider for Mars exploration

New missions will require detailed surface maps. Mars rovers can make these maps, but pass only a few meters per day. NASA's Opportunity Mars rover traveled an impressive 45 kilometers during its mission, but it took almost 15 years.

Therefore, planetologists are looking for ways to explorethe surface of the planet is more nimble. One option is to launch the plane into the atmosphere of Mars with an engine capable of supporting it in the air. Such a mission will be able to cover huge distances, but will cost a lot - from $ 350 million.

A cheaper approach would be tosend a bigger mission. Thus, another idea is to send a rover with a quadcopter who can explore nearby surroundings. But such flights will be limited and short.

What is needed is a transport that is small enough so that it can be used to accomplish another mission and, at the same time, travel long distances.

The other day Adrien Buskela, Aman Chandra and their colleaguesfrom the University of Arizona, said they have developed just such a mission. Their idea is to launch a glider without power to the atmosphere of Mars and maintain it on the fly with the help of thermal ascending currents - rising columns of warm air. The glider will be inflatable and will be able to climb into a small enough volume so that it can be transported as a payload when performing more serious missions on Mars.

But first, a little background. The spacecraft, which is currently in Mars orbit, is capable of taking pictures with a resolution of 30 centimeters per pixel. Planetologists are gradually collecting high-resolution map of the surface of Mars from them.

However, they need even better pictures,to plan future landing missions. Until today, most vehicles landed on relatively flat plains, where the probability of a collision with a boulder or crater was small. These areas are usually less interesting from a scientific point of view. Instead, planetary geologists would like to visit the valleys and ridges formed by water. A safe landing in such places will require visualization devices to accurately display small stones and craters that can damage the device upon contact.

Landing modules provide this leveldetails, because they can take pictures with a resolution of 1 centimeter per pixel in a 100-meter area around them. But they are unable to travel the long distances necessary to reach regions of interest. That is why scientists turned their attention to flying machines.

Flight to Mars is a complicated thing. Although gravity is low, only one third of the earth’s, Earth’s atmosphere is a hundred times denser. It is very difficult to create.

The wings of a new glider should be bigrelative to its weight. The glider will carry a 5-megapixel camera, radio communications, an on-board computer and several solar panels with batteries to accumulate energy during the day and remain in operation at night. Buskela and colleagues calculated that in addition to the inflatable wings and the helm the glider will carry 5 kilograms - the mass of the golden eagle.

Then they calculated that in order toto keep this mass afloat, the wings will need a span of about 6 meters, and the unit will be able to fly at a speed of 100 meters per second. For comparison, golden eagles on Earth can plan with a wing span of 2 meters when flying at a speed of 15 meters per second.

The glider will be deployed during the main the entrance to the atmosphere of Mars and disconnect from the main load at a height of about 2 kilometers. The nitrogen generator will inflate and create pressure in the glider in less than 10 seconds, and its wings will become solid in about an hour, under the influence of Martian sunlight.

Inflatable technologies like these have already been tested.on Mars. Both the Mars Pathfinder module and Mars MER rovers relied on airbags, which inflated as they descended into the atmosphere, and then mitigated the impact on the ground. They were also developed for small communications satellites.

An important part of the mission will be the autonomous abilityuse upflows in the Martian atmosphere. Such systems on Earth have demonstrated the ability to stay afloat for weeks or months.

If Mars has a wind profile likeEarth, that is, changing the speed and height of the wind, then the earth approaches will work on the Red Planet. Scientists have already carried out a numerical simulation of these types of flights on Mars.

These results suggest that autonomousthe flight will be able to keep the glider afloat for long periods of time, subject to a sufficiently large change in wind speed and height. The only question is whether the glider can hold out on Mars for a year.

However, even a few hours of flight cangenerate valuable data. The camera on board will have to have a surface resolution of 10 centimeters, and at a speed of 100 meters per second the glider will be able to fly many hundreds of kilometers. He will send the images to an orbiting station like the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which will then send them home.

Such a mission could shed light on a number of long-standingthe mysteries of Mars. One of these - the mysterious lines on the slopes of Mars, which appear during warming and the onset of summer. These are believed to be saline streams, but better observations are needed.

The glider could also identify potential landing sites for future missions. Thanks to the speed of exploring the surface, he could map at an accelerated pace.

What the engineering team lacks isHollywood taste. The most successful missions have always been those that produce the most iconic paintings. Neil Armstrong, standing near the American flag on the surface of the Moon, or star traveler Ilona Mask, who is sitting behind the wheel of a Tesla, which flies away from Earth. This kind of images play an important role in public perception.

The glider needs a wide-angle camera on the tail, which will send images to Earth. What do you think is worth it? Tell us in our chat in Telegram.