Before we humans can call Mars home, we’ll need to scope out a good plot of land. And while Curiosity has been scouring the Martian surface over the past few years, it hasn’t actually covered much ground, instead focusing on studying the planet’s geological and chemical makeup. So what do we do? Send out a boomerang glider thing.
NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center says it plans on testing a new glider prototype that looks more like a recreational toy. It’s basically a next generation drone, meant to fly over the Red Planet’s surface as scientists plan out a possible spot to send humans—something that could potentially happen sooner than you think.
Known as the Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design to Land on Mars (Prandtl-m), the plane is about 24 inches wide, and weighs less than a pound (about 2.6 pounds on Mars). NASA says it’ll be made of either fiberglass or carbon fiber to best recover from the Martian planet’s unusual conditions.
If all goes well, NASA estimates the boomerang plane will have a flight time of around 10 minutes, and cover around 20 miles. But even before that happens, a number of tests will be conducted here on Earth to ensure the mission is even feasible. NASA says it plans on dropping the Prandtl-m from about 100,000 feet—an altitude that will best simulate the flight conditions on Mars.
“The tests could validate how the aircraft works, leading to modifications that will allow it to fold and deploy from a 3U Cubist in the aeroshell of a future Mars rover,” NASA said.
The hope is to send Prandtl-m to Mars by 2024, which will be here before you know it. NASA has already safely landed the monstrous Curiosity, which is about 2,000 pounds, on Mars, so landing something as light as the Prandtl-m should theoretically be a piece of cake.
“I think the project stands a very good chance of being able to go to NASA Headquarters and say we would like permission to ride to Mars with one of the rovers,” NASA said.