For over 50 years humans have made numerous mission to Mars. In that 5 decades of exploration, 56 mission have been sent and 7 of which are rovers. 4 of those rovers have been successful and have been covering the Martian soil for 64 km in the span of approximately 23 years. It’s about 3 km/year travel.
The goal is to find clues if Mars once hosted life. But, won’t it be faster if we could send a flyer or an aircraft to Mars?
There are some concepts that have been put out for a flyer on Mars…all of didn’t “fly”. There are reasons and some resources challenges just to attain flight on Mars. But, first let’s recall what are these flyers, supposedly, to fly over Mars.
Most of these concepts have prototype build and were tested on Earth. I’m not going to go into details of each flyers. They were test-beds and never launched on Mars.
Aerial Regional-scale Environmental Survey(ARES)
Mars Airborne Geophysical Explorer(MAGE)
Airplane for Mars Exploration(AME)
Advanced Reconnaissance Martian Deployable Aircraft(ARMaDA)
Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design to Land on Mars(Prandtl-M)
Is it possible to fly on Mars?
It is possible to fly on Mars. But, it’s difficult for two factors and it’s in the atmosphere. Let’s put into perspective first, how flight is achieve on Earth. It’s simply using thrust to create a lift in the wings by pushing down air. On Earth, jet uses oxygen to burn fuel and with turbo-props to achieve that thrust.
- has way less oxygen. For a winged flight on Mars. Significant amount of same resources will be carried on the craft. That would negatively impacting its range.
- is very thin(about less that 1% of Earth’s). Achieving lift, aircraft on Mars would fly very fast at approximately Mach 1.0(1,200 km/hr). Sound achievable. But, very far from that. Flying fast is one thing. But, turning is even harder. In the speed of sound and on very thin atmosphere, it doesn’t do much with changing the direction.
Orbiters for life
With all those challenges, many space faring countries and agencies settled with Orbiters and Rovers. Orbiters are faster for covering topographical recon. With advance sensor suits. It could detect weather patters and surface data. Although, we could always use balloons. Come to think of it. Balloons could linger in air much longer and thus cover’s much area as well. Also, it could be a lucrative alternative to transport, and provide a soft landing for a rover from any spot on Mars.
MARS FLYER A DEAD-END?
Of course, not. . . powered flight in Mars still on the table. As a matter of fact, with Mars 2020. Perseverance rover carries a technology demonstrator. Soon, the first power flight on Mars. The Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity.
Watch related video for the physics behind in achieving first flight on Mars
Small steps at a time
Almost 5 decades in the Mars exploration and I’m sure tons of data were collected studied. Many of them still to be uncovered. We may not achieve in short term. But, with perseverance and enduring the great challenges ahead will fuel those small steps in achieving that “flight”. As Wilbur Wright once said…
it is possible to fly without motor, but not without knowledge and skill
Think about it. Leave your thoughts in the comment section below. Subscribe to be notified for more Mars 2020 mission updates.