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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

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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“It Is A More Rugged Surface Than We Predicted,” NASA’s Plan to Scoop Up Dirt from Asteroid Hits Complication

A Japanese spacecraft, Hayabusa2, touched down on another asteroid in February, also on a mission to collect material. Japan managed to return some tiny particles in 2010 from its first asteroid mission.

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This artist's rendering made available by NASA in July 2016 shows the mapping of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. VOA

NASA’s plan to scoop up dirt and gravel from an asteroid has hit a snag, but scientists say they can overcome it.

The asteroid Bennu was thought to have wide, open areas suitable for the task. But a recently arrived spacecraft revealed the asteroid is covered with boulders and there don’t seem to be any big, flat spots that could be used to grab samples.

In a paper released Tuesday by the journal Nature, scientists say they plan to take a closer look at a few smaller areas that might work. They said sampling from those spots poses “a substantial challenge.”

“But I am confident this team is up to that substantial challenge,” the project’s lead scientist, Dante Lauretta, told reporters at a news conference Tuesday.

The spacecraft, called Osiris-Rex, is scheduled to descend close to the surface in the summer of 2020. It will extend a robot arm to pick up the sample, which will be returned to Earth in 2023. The spacecraft began orbiting Bennu at the end of last year, after spending two years chasing down the space rock.

FILE - This Nov. 16, 2018, image provide by NASA shows the asteroid Bennu.
This Nov. 16, 2018, image provide by NASA shows the asteroid Bennu. VOA

When the mission was planned, scientists were aiming to take dirt and gravel from an area measuring at least 55 yards (50 meters) in diameter that was free of boulders or steep slopes, which would pose a hazard.

“It is a more rugged surface than we predicted,” said Lauretta, of the University of Arizona in Tucson and one of the paper’s authors. But he said he believed a sample could still be collected.

NASA project manager Rich Burns said a spot will be chosen this summer and the setback won’t delay the sampling.

Patrick Taylor, who studies asteroids at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston but didn’t participate in the spacecraft mission, noted in a telephone interview that the spacecraft was evidently maneuvering more accurately and precisely than had been expected.

“That gives me confidence they will be able to attempt a sample acquisition,” he said.

NASA
NASA project manager Rich Burns said a spot will be chosen this summer and the setback won’t delay the sampling. VOA

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Bennu is 70 million miles (110 million kilometers) from Earth. It’s estimated to be just over 1,600 feet (500 meters) across and is the smallest celestial body ever orbited by a spacecraft.

A Japanese spacecraft, Hayabusa2, touched down on another asteroid in February, also on a mission to collect material. Japan managed to return some tiny particles in 2010 from its first asteroid mission. (VOA)