NASA to test first drone to use on Mars

Illustration: Dennis Calaba/NASA

The larger, non-foldable glider, called Prandtl-d, will be dropped from 30,000 meters by a high altitude balloon later in 2015. Prandtl-d will simulate the flight conditions its successor will face inside the Martian atmosphere near the surface.

The hope is that the glider will be able to stabilize itself and achieve level flight. If that works out, the next step will be to see if they can get a glider to do the same thing—except for starting all folded up inside of a 3U Cubesat container. The final test mission under discussion would involve actual launch in a sounding rocket up to 137,000 meters (450,000 feet), followed by a deployment and controlled glide of up to five hours in length.

The flying wing will be made from a strong but lightweight material like carbon fiber or fiberglass, giving it a slim weight of around 2.6 pounds (1.2 kilograms).

The space agency says that a flying wing based on Prandtl-m could fly on a NASA Mars rover mission in 2022 - 2024. The glider would travel folded up in the spacecraft’s aeroshell and deploy during the descent through the atmosphere.

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