NASA plans to take deep space exploration one step further by deploying a fleet of prospecting drones to the Red Planet, asteroids, or even the remotest moons within the outer reaches of our solar system.
On Mars, the robotic sentinels may help the space agency take a closer look at the planet because they can easily reach locations that are otherwise inaccessible to conventional robotic explorers such as Curiosity rover.
Drones can move around faster and more deftly than ground robotic missions. Moreover, they need lower energy and can fit into small, dim lit spaces such as small craters of an asteroid. The only drawback of Earth-based drones is that they require an atmosphere to move within.
But NASA engineers currently work on a unmanned craft that can operate in no-atmosphere conditions and can recharge its batteries by returning to its mothership. This means that the tiny devices would be able to work in dark conditions, as well.
NASA is developing such drone at its Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Rob Mueller, head of Swamp Works, the team in charge with testing the drone, explained that the craft under construction at the center would be a prospecting drone.
The drone will be used by ground controllers to find where exactly resources on remote planets and asteroids are. That step is essential especially for commercial companies that envision a future where asteroids and rocky planets can be mined.
Mr. Mueller added that vital resources are often located in hard-to-reach places that usually lack enough sunlight such as craters that have very steep walls and are impossible to navigate by a robotic rover.
The prospecting drones, which will be dubbed Extreme Access Flyers, will propel through jets of gas or water instead of rotors. Both gas and water are resources that can be easily found on the targeted space bodies.
They will also be able to take soil samples from inaccessible locations and bring them to the robotic lander for the analysis. Developers said that fuel and autonomy would no longer be a problem. ESA’s solar-powered Philae lander, the first man-made object to land on a moving comet, had to enter a 7-month-long hibernation mode because it had accidentally landed in a corner of the comet that received no sunlight.
NASA’s aerospace engineers believe that that won’t happen again with their drones. The propellant would be enough to allow the crafts fly around on Mars for several minutes and on an asteroid for several hours before returning to their robotic mothership.
Image Source: Gizmodo