Taking a tour on Mars to investigate and discover has been a task for big and ground based rovers, such as NASA’s Curiosity, for years now. And even though she’s been in the good company of several other Mars vehicles, time has soon come for the launch of small drones, expected to be able to land where the rovers can’t go.
Dangers and difficulties on Mars, such as volcanic regions, glaciers or too bumpy impact-crater sites, has always put a limit to how far out any big rover can go. With this new concept, featuring paragliding microprobes, scientists can now hope to visit numerous locations on the planet that were previously unavailable.
The project is called MARSDROP, and the whole thing starts with an idea that Rebecca Williams, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, came up with. The promising adventures that she describes and that are lying ahead, would for sure be an inspiration to any of her co-workers: “What is particularly exciting about this new approach is the possibility of landing in new locations, like the canyons in Valles Mariners, or at modern, geologically active sites such as south-polar geysers, or locations with inferred seasonal release of surface water flows.”
Getting the probes to our neighbor planet can be done easily, with a hitch-hiker trick – letting the microprobes follow along with a larger spacecraft would only add a 5% increase in cost to the mission. When in place, the probes can be detached in the atmosphere, and while landing they glide to their target location using steerable parawings. The accuracy comes with a margin of only tens of meters to the predetermined landing site.
If we ever want to settle down on Mars, then firstly we really need to do all we can to make sure we know as much about our new home planet as possible. The microprobes will be a great aid in that direction, as they can carry instruments such as microscopes, camera, weather sensors or seismometers, all for the benefit of our understanding of what to expect when setting the first human foot on Mars.
Photo: European Space Agency