NASA is reportedly considering developing a colony of small flying robots called Marsbees to assist in the research of Mars. The Mars surface is covered with sharp rocks and uneven surfaces, which make transport with rovers very difficult.
The best way to examine the red planet might be from the air. If developed, each Marsbee would be roughly the size of a regular bumblebee but have wings closer to those of a cicada. The flying robots would be able to take off in a swarm from a recharging and communications base.
Earth appropriate hummingbird-bot already in action
Aerospace engineers will reportedly team up with robotics teams in Japan to develop the Mars suitable robot. "Our preliminary numerical results suggest that a bumblebee with a cicada wing can generate sufficient lift to hover in the Martian atmosphere," writes Chang-kwon Kang, an aerospace engineer at the University of Alabama, Huntsville.
The Japanese part of the team has already successfully developed a "hummingbird micro-air vehicle" suitable for flight on Earth. This will get tested in a vacuum chamber to simulate Mars' atmosphere before adjustments are made.
Marsbees receive generous NASA support
The Marsebees project is one of many new technology projects that will receive funding from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program. The program aims to engage with innovators and entrepreneurs to help NASA achieve their deep space goals.
The project will receive first-round funding of roughly $125,000 USD over nine months. This first phase of the project aims at refining the concept and studying its feasibility.
Manned Mars mission is the future goal
While NASA has ambitious goals to send manned missions to Mars, these type of trips are still a long way off. In the meantime, scientists must continue to research the red planet in order to guarantee the success of future missions.
NASA has had huge success with sending rovers to Mars. Both Curiosity and Opportunity collected huge amounts of data about Mars that would have been impossible to know through pure visual observation.
The rovers are limited to how much ground they can cover. Flying exploratory robots provide a good opportunity to explore Mars quickly and safely.
NASA supports innovation
In addition to the Marsbees project, NASA is also considering developing a flying robot type drown to examine Saturn's moon Titan. NASA announced its latest round of NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program funding last Friday.
In addition to the Marsbees project, the space agency will fund 24 other early stage innovative technology projects. Among these are a balloon locomotion idea for use on the extreme terrain of Mars.
The balloon locomotion consists of a large balloon anchored by six, payload, ‘feet’ that move in sequence to lift the balloon over rocky terrain. Another exciting project is the development of self-assembling space telescope swarms which aims to build the architecture that could produce a giant space telescope from modular parts.