National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research Center

Anthony Colozza

Atmospheric Flight on Planets Other Than Earth

July 18, 2007

Anthony Colozza’s talk about atmospheric flight covered the current state of research into aircraft that might fly on Mars or other planets, and delved into what might be possible in the future. The overall goal of atmospheric flights on other planets is to fill the void left by other forms of surveillance, namely rovers, landers, and orbiters. Unlike these other vehicles, aircraft would be capable of covering a wide range of territory with high resolution as well as conducting sampling of the atmosphere and mapping the magnetic fields.

One of the major questions faced by those in the development stages of these aircraft is where to fly them. The options stretch across the solar system: Europa, Io, Ganymede, Titan, Uranus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, Triton, and Neptune. Although much of the focus is on Mars, it is one of the most difficult places to fly. The atmosphere on Venus at 50km is very similar to Earth’s so testing planes for that planet would be much easier. Titan’s atmosphere is ideal for an airship.

The biggest obstacles preventing a successful mission are thrust, atmospheric conditions, deployment, communications, flight duration and flight control. Propulsion options are fuel cells, monopropellants, bipropellants, radioisotope, or traditional internal combustion engines.

The “crazy” stuff waiting somewhere in the future includes a solid state aircraft equipped with a transparent metallic antennae and a neural network enabling it to learn how to fly under different conditions. This type of craft would be ideal for Venus because it could be solar power and hypothetically run indefinitely. An aircraft that might work well on Mars is the Entomopter Flight System which is based off of insect flight and would function well under the low Reynolds numbers present on Mars.

—Jessica Snyder