/ Modified jul 8, 2022 2:14 p.m.

University of Arizona researchers testing ideas for lightweight Mars glider

It would coast through the Martian skies far from landers and rovers on the surface.

Mars Plane Illustration of a proposed Mars glider.
Sergey Shkarayev/University of Arizona

A University of Arizona research team is developing the next generation of aircraft designed to fly in the air above Mars.

The team’s designs include fixed-wing sailplanes that can unfold like an accordion and use a surface-launched balloon for takeoff.

Scientists say the aircraft can help capture pictures and other data from Martian canyons and valleys that rovers can’t get to.

University of Arizona engineering professor Sergey Shkarayev envisions lightweight gliders accompanying unmanned landers to the Red Planet.

“Not just one and not just ten, but a swarm of these platforms developing a system, soaring and gliding around Mars collecting badly needed information," he said.

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter demonstrated the use of small aircraft operating in thin Martian atmosphere last year. UA scientist Jekan Thanga suggests the first flight might be like Ingenuity's, which was originally a simple demonstration project.

“You deploy it, you launch it, you get some great science data and then it prematurely fails, no problem.”

Thanga says a prototype sailplane with a giant wingspan has already been tested above Tucson.

The team's research was presented in the scientific journal [Aerospace]{https://www.mdpi.com/2226-4310/9/6/306/htm} last month.

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