Unique New Drones to Conquer Mars

  • A new device can be controlled by laser mounted on Rover.
  • It is very inexpensive to manufacture.
  • It has great future for obtaining soil samples on other planets and use of sensors to gather data in the atmosphere.

US Engineers from the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, University of Pennsylvania have developed cost efficient and unique drones for space exploration. The drones are thin as paper and can travel around Mars and other planets. The work is very relevant since NASA unveiled its new Space Exploration Agenda earlier this month.

Sequential screenshots of a low-height levitation test at atmospheric conditions inside of a glass enclosure at an incident optical flux of 10,000 W/m2 (~10 Suns). (B) Schematic of the photophoretic force-induced gas flow through one nanocardboard channel. (C) Cross sectional schematic of the optimized nanocardboard structure, showing a cutaway view of the internal channels. (D) Scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of the 5-channel-array optimized nanocardboard plate structure. (E) SEM micrograph of the 200 nm thick carbon nanotube film on the edge of one of the nanocardboard channels.

NASA plans to build a mobile habitable platform. The platform will accommodate voyages lasting up to 45 days. It is expected the lunar base should become a springboard for the preparation of a landing on Mars. It will not only become a springboard for the study of the celestial body itself, but also for the development of technologies that ensure maximum autonomy of the base.

The new technology is super light weight. The new device does not have moving parts and consists of a plate and hollow tubes. It is made out of aluminum oxide with walls only 50 nanometers thick. Aluminum oxide is a chemical compound of aluminium and oxygen with the chemical formula Al₂O₃. It is the most commonly occurring of several aluminium oxides, and specifically identified as aluminium(III) oxide.  By definition a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. A meter is about 39 inches long.

The size of the device has a variant up to an inch. The smallest model ways 0.3 milligrams, which would be equivalent to a small insect. There is nothing in this category previously designed or available at present.

The tubes main functions: 

1) It aids the drone being more robust.

2) It becomes the engine of the device.

One side of the drone uses sunlight or any other type of heat to make the device’s channels open to be filled with atmospheric gas. Hence, the drone starts moving. When it goes numb on one side, it bursts out on the other, acting as a jet stream. The fact is that the temperature of the channel wall changes throughout its entire length. The concept is not new, but it has never been utilized in the aerospace industry.

Sequential screenshots of a levitation test at reduced pressures inside of a vacuum chamber at an illumination of 0.8 W/cm2 (~8 Suns). The plate being tested has dimensions of approximately 0.5 cm × 1 cm. (B) Schematic of the flow fields around a plate levitating in mid- air, based on numerical flow simulations.

With the usual gravity and air density such devices have proudly hovered at a height of… half a millimeter. It is not surprising that aircraft designers ignore this approach to conquering the skies.

However, the atmospheric pressure on Mars is 170 times lower than on Earth. This has already been shown in experiments. The pressure in the test chambers was even lower than on the Martian surface (10-200 Pascals against 600 Pascals). But keep in mind that on the red planet, the gravity is 2.6 times less than on ours.

The work on the drone, titled “Photophoretic Levitation of Macroscopic Nanocardboard Plates,” is available here.

A main application of this drone would be research of the atmosphere on Mars and other planets via sensors. Another variant of the drone could include having an adhesive type of padding to collect samples either in the air or while landed.

Nanocardboard rectangular plate.

Of course, in the latter case, the movement of these devices will have to be controlled. Theoretically, this is possible with a laser mounted on the Rover, which will heat the aircraft at the right intensity and in the right places. A lunar rover or Moon rover is a space exploration vehicle designed to move across the surface of the Moon. The Apollo Program’s Lunar Roving Vehicle was driven on the Moon by members of three American crews, Apollo 15, 16, and 17.

This device can be integrated into the tools during missions and could even stay for a prolonged time, when the moon colony is set up as well. NASA is working on such an initiative to be completed within this decade.

Russia also proposed its own Moon colony set up, which includes a moon base with artificial gravitation, allowing future human residents not only to live on the Moon but even give birth without harm to their health. The moon base will contain a centrifuge, which will allow an earth-like level of gravity. The proposed quanta of mass of the centrifuge would be 1 tonne, with the overall mass in the range of 2 to 9 tonnes. The parameters allow transportation to the moon using already existing carriers.

In conclusion, it is a great inexpensive tool that can be integrated on the wide range of the space research objectives.

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Christina Kitova

I spent most of my professional life in finance, insurance risk management litigation.

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