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Mars Mission: NASA shows first plane to fly on the Red planet

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This illustration shows what a Prandtl-m might look like flying above the surface of Mars. Credits: NASA Illustration / Dennis Calaba
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Washington: The US space agency is planning to send a boomerang-shaped aircraft to Mars first to check if the conditions are ripe for the humans to land on the Red Planet.

Proposed to make its first flight to Mars in the 2020s, a prototype of the “Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design to Land on Mars” (Prandtl-m) will be ready for a test launch from a high-altitude balloon later this year.

“The ‘Prandtl-m’ will be released at about at 100,000 feet which will simulate the flight conditions of the Martian atmosphere,” said Al Bowers, NASA Armstrong chief scientist and Prandtl-m programme manager.

“The aircraft would be part of the ballast that would be ejected from the aeroshell that takes the Mars rover to the planet,” Bowers added.

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.

The tests could validate how the aircraft works, leading to modifications that will allow it to fold and deploy from a CubeSat in the aeroshell of a future Mars rover.

A CubeSat is a miniature satellite used for space research that is usually about four inches in each dimension.

This illustration shows what a Prandtl-m might look like flying above the surface of Mars. Credits: NASA Illustration / Dennis Calaba
This illustration shows what a Prandtl-m might look like flying above the surface of Mars.
Credits: NASA Illustration / Dennis Calaba

Because the Prandtl-m could ride in a CubeSat aboard the Mars rover piggyback stack going to Mars in 2022-2024, the additional weight would not add to the mission’s cost.

Once in the Martian atmosphere, the Prandtl-m would emerge from its host, deploy and begin its mission.

“It will have a flight time of right around 10 minutes. The aircraft would be gliding for the last 2,000 feet to the surface of Mars and have a range of about 20 miles,” Bowers said.

Before that happens, a configuration will be developed for the first of three tests here on Earth.

The actual aircraft’s wingspan, when deployed, would measure 24 inches and weigh less than a pound.

With Mars gravity 38 percent of what it is on Earth, that actually allows us up to 2.6 pounds and the vehicle will still weigh only one pound on Mars.

“It will be made of composite material, either fibreglass or carbon fibre. We believe this particular design could best recover from the unusual conditions of an ejection,” NASA reported.

The flight test could also include some scientific research that will apply to a Mars mission.

(IANS)

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SpaceX to Launch Twin NASA Water Cycle Tracker Satellites

The satellites are scheduled to launch at 3.47 p.m. EDT from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California

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SpaceX to Launch Twin NASA Water Cycle Tracker Satellites
SpaceX to Launch Twin NASA Water Cycle Tracker Satellites. Pixabay

On its way to deploy five Iridium Next communications satellites on Tuesday, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will also launch twin NASA satellites that will monitor Earth’s water cycle, marking a unique rideshare arrangement.

The satellites are scheduled to launch at 3.47 p.m. EDT from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California. (This corresponds to 1.17 a.m. Wednesday India time), NASA said.

The two Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On mission (GRACE-FO) spacecraft will follow each other in orbit around Earth, separated by about 220 km.

On liftoff, the Falcon 9 first-stage engines will burn for approximately two minutes and 45 seconds before shutting down at main engine cutoff (MECO).

The Falcon 9’s first and second stages will separate seconds later. Then, the second-stage engine will ignite for the first time (SES1) and burn until the vehicle reaches the altitude of the injection orbit, 490 km.

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Representational Image, VOA

While this burn is going on, the payload fairing — the launch vehicle’s nose cone — will separate into two halves like a clamshell and fall away.

When the rocket’s second stage has completed its ascent to the injection orbit altitude, it will pitch down (its nose points down) 30 degrees and roll so that one of the twin GRACE-FO satellites is facing down, toward Earth, and the other is facing up, toward space.

Then the second stage engine will cut off (SECO).

About 10 minutes after liftoff, a separation system on the second stage will deploy the GRACE-FO satellites.

Separation will occur over the Pacific Ocean at about 17.5 degrees North latitude, 122.6 degrees West longitude.

The first opportunity to receive data from the spacecraft will occur at NASA’s tracking station at McMurdo, Antarctica, about 23 minutes after separation, NASA said.

Also Read: A Study by NASA Shows Freshwater Decline in India

After the GRACE-FO satellites are deployed, the Falcon 9 second stage will coast for half an orbit before reigniting its engine (SES2) to take the Iridium Next satellites to a higher orbit for deployment.

GRACE-FO, a collaborative mission of NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ), continues the work of the original GRACE mission in observing the movement of water and other mass around our planet by tracking the changing pull of gravity very precisely. (IANS)