Flying Around Mars
I promised real space adventure when I started WotzUp and I believe that we have delivered, but this post is starting to get serious. We have been approached by Murdoch University to test a Mars Capable Quad-copter in flight at 35km altitude here on Earth!
Flight on Mars will be very difficult and testing will be a huge component in convincing a sponsor to take the technology to Mars. If ti was easy, everyone would be doing it.
Why 35km Altitude?
Well that is as close to Mars atmospheric conditions as we can get here on Earth. That is about 1% of the density of the atmosphere that we have at Sea Level on Earth. With 1/100 the density, it will have to have some serious power and some big blades with plenty of angle of attack. Unfortunately we don’t have 40% of the earth’s gravity, so to simulate that, the flier will have to stripped down to 40% of its finished mass, leaving precious little room for other systems like a big battery and it was though that real-time telemetry would be sacrificed. Without data coming back, any loss of the craft would result in a a total loss of the craft and all its data
When it was thought that the telemetry was impossible, Murdoch University decided to work with us because of our huge track record of 100% recovery. That was nice, but once we became aware of the opportunity and the limitations we were able to draw on all of our knowledge and experience to ensure the test was possible and to provide information on suitable low power, light weight data links that would make the loss of the craft less of a concern. We don’t expect to lose the payload, but it is not our payload and loss of battery could result in loss of tracking, taking recovery out of our hands.
How Could such a Flier be used on Mars?
The most likely scenario would be as a pathfinder for a Rover similar to the Curiosity rover now exploring Mars. It would sit on top of the rover and charge from the Rover’s power supply. In the case of Curiosity, it is a RTG – Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator
This from the Wikipedia Link above:
A radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG, RITEG) is an electrical generator that uses an array of thermocouples to convert the heat released by the decay of a suitable radioactive material into electricity by the Seebeck effect. This generator has no moving parts.
The flier could head out from the rover and look at the path ahead. It could return and download information such as LIDAR Data.
This from the Wikipedia Link above:
LIDARis a surveying technology that measures distance by illuminating a target with a laser light. Lidar is an acronym of Light Detection And Ranging, and was originally created as a portmanteau of “light” and “radar”. Lidar is popularly used as a technology to make high-resolution maps, with applications in geodesy, geomatics, archaeology, geography, geology, geomorphology, seismology, forestry, atmospheric physics, airborne laser swath mapping (ALSM) and laser altimetry. What is known as Lidar is sometimes simply referred to as laser scanning or 3D scanning, with terrestrial, airborne and mobile applications.
Such data could be processed by the rover or sent back to Earth for processing and evaluation.
After every flight, the flier would return to the rover and be locked in place for the next charging cycle.
More about the Test Flight
It is expected to be conducted in our approved flight area around centred around the NSW town of West Wyalong. The object will be to get to 35km without the balloons exploding. That means small fills in two balloons ensuring a few extra km of lift before they explode. The ideal arrangement would be to sever the connection to the balloons so that they rise away from the flier and don’t interfere. Should the balloons explode, we would have a switch that realises that there is no pressure on the balloon tether and cut the connection in milliseconds. an elastic line to the remains of the balloon will pull the line upwards, giving the quad copter a chance to evade the falling balloon remnants.
Below is the flight profile. We expect to fly the experiment in 6 to 9 months. More on this as it develops. Following the experimental manouvers, the rover will auto-rotate all the way to a landing. Just before landing the unit will power up for a soft landing.