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Space Science

Mars Flier Prototype 99

SEWilco writes "BBC News reports that a full-scale prototype of a Mars flier will be built. The ARES glider will unfold in midair for a mission which may cover 850 km (528 miles). I wonder if its huge wings would allow it to be tossed back in the air by a storm in that thin air, although probably not by "winds of a few m/sec"."
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Mars Flier Prototype

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  • Here we go (Score:1, Funny)

    by Manhigh ( 148034 )
    Insert token wisecrack about English/Metric conversion here
  • Go here [] for the ARES website itself
    • Re:Link to ARES (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Wait a minute...that's the same link from the article! Guess the moderators don't check out links before assigning a +1 Insightful
    • seems like a great idea, and a superb way to survey more of the mars surface.

      Let's face it, satellites only get you so much resolution (look at the recent US military campaign)... drones and gliders have the potential to give us better pictures.

      I just hope they do some rarefied atmosphere wind-tunnel testing; would be embarassing to have this thing plunge to the surface because someone was expecting an earthlike atmosphere...

      Yeah, yeah, I know they'll test for it... but after that supposed metric/englis
      • Look a little further on the project's web site and you'll see pictures of a high-altitude drop test. The craft unfolded wings and flew in Mars-density air and at the expected speed. The parachute landings also have given NASA some confirmation of how the Mars atmosphere behaves in airflow situations (something a little different than figuring out what gases are in the atmosphere).
    • what's with the US flag design on the wings? i've never seen it featured that prominantly on a space probe before...

      • Yeah, must be meant to frighten marsian terrorists. Anyway, should it fail and drop to the ground like a stone it may still serve to claim all of the mars as an us colony.

  • What it can do (Score:5, Informative)

    by ( 637314 ) on Friday May 16, 2003 @09:53PM (#5977538) Homepage Journal
    • Simultaneous, in-situ, regional-scale measurement of the Mars atmosphere, surface, and interior
    • Bridges critical scale and resolution measurement gaps of remote sensing and surface exploration
    • Scout for future sample return and surface mission site selection
    • Magnetic survey with spatial resolution two orders of magnitude higher than provided by Mars Global Surveyor, with ability to resolve the crustal magnetism source structure
    • High-resolution measurements that cannot be achieved from orbit
    • Geologic diversity from regional-scale coverage that cannot be achieved by surface missions
    • In-situ atmospheric science
    • Ability to traverse terrain inaccessible to surface vehicles
    • Ability to precisely target science features
    • Ability to execute a controlled, pre-planned aerial survey pattern
    • Measurement of vertical surface structure not visible from orbit
    • Robust performance with regard to atmospheric uncertainties
    • I think the Founding Fathers would be impressed... No, make that pleasantly astounded!! I love living in the era when machines began to become intelligent, and when the Naked Little Apes learned to leave this rock. We live in an amazing time in human history... NASA is one of the most amazing organizations in the history of mankind. Yet another stroke of genius from the NASA folks.
  • m/sec? (Score:2, Funny)

    by pdbogen ( 596723 )
    ...What is that in furlongs/tick, again?
    • Re:m/sec? (Score:4, Funny)

      by bj8rn ( 583532 ) on Saturday May 17, 2003 @04:25AM (#5978915)
      1 m/s ~= 40 attoparsecs/microfortnight. Maybe this helps with the conversion.
    • The Tick has no fur of any length.
    • The article states that the winds went up to 10 metres/second during the day... That comes to ~22 miles/hour. Not too bad if you're ok with the really thin air. [units(1) is your friend]

      BTW: a balloon wouldn't be that bad of an idea... I think that mars' atmosphere is something like what we find at around 60~100thousand feet. We've already got balloons that can do the same on earth, so mars should be possible too.

  • What's the price? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by $$$$$exyGal ( 638164 )
    The first Mars Scout mission is planned for launch in 2007 with arrival at Mars in 2008.

    Wow. If this succeeds, there'll be "space plane(s)" on Mars by 2008. I'm extremely curious what the required budget is for this project. Anyone know? 10 million USD? 100 million USD?

    • NASA's budget is around 14 billion USD/year. A healthy chunk of that goes to administration and payrol. Most NASA projects are on a shoe-string budget -- whatever money this project gets will most likely be at the expense of others.

      14 billion might sound like a lot, but it's not.
    • W00t. They'll take this out of your allowance, For real.

      Nice journal, btw.

  • by mnmn ( 145599 ) on Friday May 16, 2003 @09:57PM (#5977557) Homepage

    With the lack of clouds, I think a pathfinder, like the two that NASA created, could be possible. A pathfinder would work well in that low gravity, despite the air density, and we could have a continuous stream of data forever (Or till the pathfinder warranty expires). They should ideally have highres cams pointing downwards for high res ground pictures and could occasionally swoop real low and detect moisture and other chemicals.

    Heck they could release many pathfinders in the atmosphere, let em interconnect with long wave radio, and allow them to provide GPS-like location radio for ground machines. If they could act like ipv6 routers between themselves, we would have a mars internet started with ipv6 from ground up.. aliens would be tempted to login and try to crack the pentagon honeypots. Who wants the domain internic.mars?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      On one hand you are correct: the Pathfinder would be efficient in the Martian atmosphere, as it is roughly equivalent to the Earth's atmosphere at 100,000 feet altitude, a domain where the Pathfinder can stay for hours.

      But you have to take into account that the luminosity on Mars is around 40% of that on Earth, and solar panels are likely to collect dust as well. also, it is supposed that there are violent winds blowing on Mars.
      • Winds should not be a problem at higher altitudes, and since the first pathfinder flight, technologys improved. I read somewhere on slashdot 2 months ago of some solar panels taking in 250% more energy per area. I wouldnt take dust as a problem on smooth wings, salt, ice maybe, but not dry dust. Theres also no ozone there, which might let in more sunlight energy.

        Such a pathfinder would be released from a spacecraft and wouldnt need landing gears or booster batteries for takeoff, that should kill more weigh
  • an older prototype (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AbdullahHaydar ( 147260 ) on Friday May 16, 2003 @09:58PM (#5977559) Homepage
    This article [] is about an older prototype that was flown 2 years ago.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 16, 2003 @10:02PM (#5977579)
    when this thing lands and G.W. Bush, in full combat flight suit, steps off to greet the smiling Martian press...
    • This isn't funny. It's just antiamerican.

      If that's all it takes to get a +1 funny, then yeah. I'll get a +1 funny, one day.

      • i've american cousins...i was born in india,so i technically am from a third world nation (look up the real political meaning of it by the way...its not a word to describe the economical condition of a nation..but most morons use it that way)...i am canadian...i've british cousins as well..i like america..i hate bush...i hate half of his that anti-american ?
      • 1. It plays on the ironic view of US being the world police.

        2. Freedom, including that of speech, is one of the things America (should) hold most dear.

        2a. America is a democracy, at least so believed, but as a democracy, it is ok to disagree with others, including your leader. Hell, you can work towards replacing him with yourself going through the proper channels.

        So you see, he is funny. Your observation is wrong.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 16, 2003 @10:04PM (#5977589)
    I very much doubt that it would be able to use rising current to stay up in the air for a couple of reasons. First the aerodynamics. The wings would have to have a much larger aspect ratio, or span vs. chord length, since that govers much of your aerodynamic efficiency. you need to be very efficient to use air currents to gain altitude. Modern gliders, which are able to use rising currents, are able to do that because they very high aspect ratios compared to most airplanes, including this one. They probably can't increase the wing span a lot because you still have to pack this thing up in a rocket, plus I'm sure there are design (weight?) constraints for spring to deploy the wings. Don't want to make them too soft, since you have some aerodynamic loads that you may need to overcome during deployment, but not too stiff to minimize the weight and you don't want the wings to unfold too fast and snap off if you don't beef up the structure, ie more weight.

    Second problem and a major one, is the control system. Developing algorythms to read atmospheric conditions to find sources of rising air would be very difficult to say the least. That's why we don't have cars that drive themselves. it's hard to design the control and sensing algorythms. You'd have to use thermals or ridge lift to gain altitude. I doubt you could use storms due to the dangerous, highly nonlinear environment.
    • by KrispyKringle ( 672903 ) on Friday May 16, 2003 @11:17PM (#5977842)
      Aside from the obvious comment that NASA surely knows what they are doing (more of a conversation stopper than anything), I think you miss a few points.

      First, in reference to your comments on structural and weight limitations, the actual force born by the wings is far less, since there is far less gravity. In addition, while the thinner air is certainly a hindrance to how much lift can be acheived with the same area, it also means that the stresses that must be absorbed from turbulence and the like are probably a lot less.

      In reference to unfolding wings, these have, I recall, been tested on Earth, so if they work in our dense air and stronger gravity, they should be fine on Mars. If I knew a link I'd post it; you can probably find more with google.

      Finally, you talk a lot about control system algorithms. However, there are a number of reasons that Unmanned Autonomous Vehicles are simpler when flying than when driving. There are a couple of relevent articles in this month's Popular Science [], as well as a very good one in the New York Times [] magazine from a few weeks ago that I just finished reading. If you think about it, the amount of leeway available in the air is far greater than that on the ground; whereas a car driver must maintain precision navigation within a few feet on a road and avoid obstacles and the like, a pilot can, during cruise, simply trim out the plane's elevators, maintain a proper heading, and get by without even an autopilot. If he drifts off by a few hundred feet altitude or a few degrees heading, it doesn't really matter. This is why we already have numerous UAV's in the air in the military (such as the well-known Predator drone) and why Boeing 777s and the new Airbus 330 (isn't that it?) both can supposedly fly without even needing a pilot, in an emergency.

      In comparison, DARPA is working with a few contractors to develop UAV ground vehicles, but is really nowhere near production stage.

      My knowledge about gliders specifically is limited, my personal experience being limited to powered planes, but I would imagine that with a fair level of accuracy, finding thermals and gaining altitude should not be all that difficult, since most of the control software already exists in some form or another.

    • I have a private pilots license in Gliders and Single engine land.

      Most aircraft seek sinking air naturally. The reason for this is that as an airplane approaches an area of rising air the strongest rising air will lift the wing on the side that is closest to that rising air. This will cause a turn away from the rising air.

      When seeking for lift as a glider pilot we use an instrument called a variometer which is a very sensistive verticle airspeed indicator. Such a device can be made audio so that glider pi
  • by torpor ( 458 ) <ibisum@g[ ] ['mai' in gap]> on Friday May 16, 2003 @10:05PM (#5977595) Homepage Journal
    ... has some Mars models (fliable) available here [] in case anyone wants to try and get a feel for the flight dynamics of this sort of trip.

    Pretty interesting, though I don't suppose there's an ARES model for X-plane yet, I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't one soon ...
  • <a href=" 8.shtml">XPLANE</a>
  • Oh wait...

    Am I the only one who read the headline and thought "Delta Flyer Prototype" ?

    Bah. Nothing to see here. Move along.
  • Mission Duration. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by uberdave ( 526529 ) on Friday May 16, 2003 @10:25PM (#5977675) Homepage
    This seems like an bad idea. The Mars Flier is a glider, which means it will have a very limited time aloft. 90 minutes from drop to landing in Earth's thick atmosphere - How long in Mars's thin atmosphere? I hope they train the on board computer to catch a few thermals here and there, otherwise this is a waste. A better idea would be a balloon or dirigible. These can stay aloft for days, weeks even. (Ultra long duration balloons [] could carry a lot more intstumentation than a glider. Theoretically, a balloon could even land, sample, and relaunch.

    Nasa really needs to have another stunningly successful mission, like the pathfinder mission. Spending million of taxpayer dollars for a 90 minute glider mission will make them look bad.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Actually, the Mars version has a small hydrazine thruster on the back. It doesn't glide, it is powered flight.

      They say it will cover 850km (500mi). No speed range is given but I would think it would take a a few hours.

      You're right, though, that a long-duration balloon could cover even more territory.
    • While I agree about the need for a successful mission, don't forget that while the atmosphere is thinner gravity is also not as high...
    • Re:Mission Duration. (Score:3, Informative)

      by eander315 ( 448340 )
      Actually, the original poster was wrong. It clearly states under the "Platform" section of the site that the ARES is an "autonomous powered airplane", and one of the artist renditions [] shows blue exhaust from some kind of jet propulsion (not that an artists rendition is worth much, but I doubt they would allow much artistic license in this case).
    • Any balloon relies on being bouyant to generate lift. With a very thin Martian atmosphere there simply isn't very much bouyancy available. A balloon would have to be HUGE to carry a usable payload.

      Having said that, in 1989 the French and the USSR started work on Mars 96, a spaceprobe that would have sent a balloon to Mars.

      Mars 96 would have sent a 65kg probe to the surface which would have been slung below a helium balloon. During the day, the Sun would warm the gas and increase bouyancy. The balloon wo

  • RTFA (Score:2, Informative)

    by stratjakt ( 596332 )
    Ares is in competition with three other Mars exploration proposals for a Nasa launch in 2007. The final selection of one, or possibly two, missions will be made later this year.

    It isn't necessarily going to Mars.

  • by IICV ( 652597 ) on Saturday May 17, 2003 @12:01AM (#5978064)
    For some reason, I started laughing when I saw the design on that thing... I mean, really. Stars and stripes? Is this what NASA has to sink to to get government funding?

    Besides, no one's going to be seeing that thing again once it crashes. It's not like we're ever going to get to Mars, at this rate.

  • Flag nonsense (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Saturday May 17, 2003 @12:21AM (#5978163)

    What the HELL is up with the flag-all-over-the-wings design?

    I doubt seriously they'll waste weight on paint if, god forbid, the thing ever goes into production- so this was clearly "spiced up" as the selling image. Did NASA think it would have better chances all gussied up and make congressmen get all patriotic?

    Or is the plan to call them "Unamerican" if they vote against it, because, say, Bush has dug us a budget hole so big it'll take us decades to get out of it? Yeah, we really need the shiny, flag-covered toys, don't we?

    • Re:Flag nonsense (Score:2, Interesting)

      by L0C0loco ( 320848 )
      Get a grip folks! Look at the picture. This is artwork, probably from a press kit. If selected, the real thing will probably be the usual stark white with minimal decoration. Things we send to other planets have to be meticulously cleaned, sterilized actually, so we do not contaminate the planet. White is easy to inspect.

      From my work developing some of the science instrumentation for this, I recall the flight speed to be in the vicinity of 250Km/Hr.

  • the test flight [].

    Cool stuff! This mission looks very workable. It is too bad that it's a one-shot flight.

Neutrinos have bad breadth.