NASA successfully flight tested Prandtl-d, prototype of first Mars airplane

Jul 3, 2015 12:00 IST

National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationThe National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on 30 June 2015 announced that it successfully flight tested Prandtl-d aircraft.

Prandtl stands for the Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design to Land on Mars and it was developed by NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Centre.

It is a prototype of the Prandtl-m aircraft, touted as the first airplane to be launched on Mars between 2020 and 2024.

Key features of Prandtl-m aircraft

• It would be part of the ballast that would be ejected from the aeroshell that takes the Mars rover to the planet in the 2020s.
• It will be able to fly in the Martian atmosphere and glide down and land besides identifying some of the proposed landing sites for a future astronaut mission.
• It will send back to the Earth very detailed high resolution photographic map images that could tell scientists about the suitability of landing sites.
• It would have a flight time of around 10 minutes and would be gliding for the last 2000 feet to the surface of Mars and have a range of about 20 miles.
• Its wingspan, when it is deployed on the Mars, would measure 24 inches allowing it to fit in a 3U CubeSat. A CubeSat is a miniature satellite used for space research that is usually about four inches in each dimension and a 3U is three of those stacked together.
• In Martian atmosphere, it would weigh less than a pound (2.6 pounds on the earth as Mars gravity is 38 percent of what it is on Earth).
• It will be made of composite material, either fiberglass or carbon fiber in order to make it recover quickly from the unusual conditions of an ejection.

Prandtl-d, a flying wing aircraft with a twist, will undergo further flight tests in 2015 and 2016, results of which will be used in developing the Prandtl-m aircraft.

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