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Could This Become the First Mars Airplane?


Jan 21, 2015
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Intriguing idea and it could fly with the next big rover to Mars in the 2020s.

A prototype of the Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design to Land on Mars, or Prandtl-m, which is a flying wing aircraft with a twist, is planned to be ready for launch from a high altitude balloon later this year. The Prandtl–m will be released at about at 100,000 feet altitude, which will simulate the flight conditions of the Martian atmosphere, said Al Bowers, NASA Armstrong chief scientist and Prandtl-m program manager.

The tests could validate how the aircraft works, leading to modifications that will allow it to fold and deploy from a 3U CubeSat in the aeroshell of a future Mars rover. A CubeSat is a miniature satellite used for space research that is usually about four inches in each dimension, a 3U is three of those stacked together.

"The aircraft would be part of the ballast that would be ejected from the aeroshell that takes the Mars rover to the planet," Bowers said." It would be able to deploy and fly in the Martian atmosphere and glide down and land. The Prandtl-m could overfly some of the proposed landing sites for a future astronaut mission and send back to Earth very detailed high resolution photographic map images that could tell scientists about the suitability of those landing sites."

Because the Prandtl-m could ride in a CubeSat as ballast aboard the aeroshell/Mars rover piggyback stack going to Mars in 2022-2024, the additional weight would not add to the mission's cost, he said. Once in the Martian atmosphere, the Prandtl-m would emerge from its host, deploy and begin its mission.


David Douglass Merriman lll
Mar 18, 2013
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Well!.... von Braun and George Pal had it right from the start. Take that!, you Mars-is-too-thin-for-airplane types.



Grey Havoc

The path not taken.
Senior Member
Oct 9, 2009
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A rival concept from JPL:

Mars Flyers

NASA’s next Mars rover, planned for launch in 2020, could at last carry an aircraft to the red planet. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and other NASA centers are studying small autonomous air vehicles that could be launched into the rarified Martian atmosphere to scout for the rover. JPL will flight test a 1-kg coaxial-rotor mini-helicopter in simulated Martian conditions in 2016, while NASA Armstrong will drop-test a 2-ft.-span flying wing that would be stored rolled up in cubesats released from the aeroshell carrying the rover, to unfurl and glide to the surface. NASA Langley is testing a multirotor flying wing that would take off and land vertically and fly horizontally to extend the rover’s reach.

EDIT: I found an artist's impression of the Prandtl-M design flying on Mars in this factsheet which has among other things a summary of the overall Prandtl-D program, but so far I've been unable to locate even a line drawing of the NASA Langley design.