NRL has participated in several design studies toward the development of aircraft for exploring the surface of Mars. Airborne sensing has proven to be an excellent method for large scale geologic analysis and surveying on earth and the same techniques can be applied to planetary science for planets containing an atmosphere. Aircraft based sensors can cover a much greater surface area than rovers at a much greater resolution than orbiting platforms with accurate flight path control that is not possible using balloon systems.
NRL Mars aircraft configurations have been developed specifically for the constraints of an extraterrestrial exploration aircraft using both ground launch (MAC) and atmospheric entry deployment (Kitty Hawk and MARES). For atmospheric deployment, the overall aircraft shape must package into a traditional conical entry shell and should require a minimum number of deployable surfaces. NRL experience in compact packaging and self-deploying aircraft is especially suited to the demands of deployment during atmospheric entry.
Sponsors: NASA, NRL
Program type: Preliminary Design