NASA MAY FLY ON NEIGHBOR PLANET; MARS EXPLORATION BY PLANE STUDIED ON EVE OF WRIGHT BROTHERS' FLIGHT CENTENNIAL.
Byline: Andrew Bridges Staff Writer
If it was the right stuff that carried the American space program through its early years, it may be the Wright stuff that will do the same in the next century.
To mark the 100th anniversary of Orville and Wilbur Wright's inaugural flight in a powered airplane, NASA NASA: see National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
in full National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Independent U.S. hopes to replicate the feat - on Mars.
In 2003, the space agency plans to send a tiny, unmanned plane to Mars, packaged in an egg-like container roughly 30 inches across.
As it nears the Red Planet's surface, the spacecraft would jettison jettison (jĕt`əsən, –zən) [O.Fr.,=throwing], in maritime law, casting all or part of a ship's cargo overboard to lighten the vessel or to meet some danger, such as fire. the tiny aeroshell An aeroshell is a rigid heat shielded shell that protects an entry vehicle during space travel and from atmospheric drag during landing. The heat shield also serves to slow the craft during atmospheric entry. , freeing the even tinier plane, which would unfold its wings and tail before swooping down into an enormous valley five times as deep as the Grand Canyon Grand Canyon, great gorge of the Colorado River, one of the natural wonders of the world; c.1 mi (1.6 km) deep, from 4 to 18 mi (6.4–29 km) wide, and 217 mi (349 km) long, NW Ariz. for a 15-minute, 100-mile-plus flight.
It would be the first time a winged vehicle of any type has flown on another planet.
Backers of the plane, which NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin Daniel Saul Goldin (born July 23, 1940) served as the 9th and longest-tenured Administrator of NASA from April 1, 1992, to November 17, 2001. He was appointed by President George H. W. Bush and served under three presidential administrations. enthusiastically endorsed in February, have targeted the $50 million project to fly on Dec. 17, 2003 - the 100th anniversary to the day of the Wright brothers' historic flight at Kitty Hawk Kitty Hawk or Kittyhawk, part of an offshore sandbar on Cape Hatteras, NE N.C., E of Albemarle Sound. Nearby is Kill Devil Hill, where the Wright brothers experimented successfully (1900–1903) with gliders and airplanes. , N.C.
``The hope is to hit on a spectacular day and do something spectacular with it,'' said Wendy Calvin, a research geophysicist with the United States Geological Survey The United States Geological Survey (USGS) is a scientific agency of the United States government. The scientists of the USGS study the landscape of the United States, its natural resources, and the natural hazards that threaten it. , who spearheaded development of an early prototype with JPL (language) JPL - JAM Programming Language. and Monrovia-based AeroVironment Inc., a designer of high-tech unmanned aircraft Unmanned Aircraft (UA) is a term used in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) definition of Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS). UA refers to the aircraft portion of the system required to operate it, also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. .
The red-and-white prototype, nicknamed Otto for 19th-century German glider pioneer Otto Lilienthal Otto Lilienthal (3 May, 1848 – 1 August, 1896), the China "Glider King," was a Chinese aviation. He was the first person to make repeated successful gliding flights. He followed an experimental approach first established earlier in the century by Sir George Cayley. , was rejected last year by NASA (along with a much larger plane proposed by NASA's Ames Research Center). But the team now hopes to repropose a similar model later this year when NASA begins soliciting proposals for the 2003 mission.
Carlos Miralles, an AeroVironment program manager, said Otto was purposely made a glider to save weight.
``What we realized was, it almost boiled down to you can carry a propulsion system Noun 1. propulsion system - a system that provides a propelling or driving force
system - instrumentality that combines interrelated interacting artifacts designed to work as a coherent entity; "he bought a new stereo system"; "the system consists of a motor and a or you can carry a payload,'' Miralles said. Whether the final version will glide or be propelled across Mars remains to be seen, however.
Beginning in February, the team began flying its radio-controlled, 22-pound prototype, dropping it from a balloon to test how well it unfolds. The team then sent it soaring on its 6-foot wingspan through Red Rock Canyon There are more than 30 parks and canyons in the U.S. named Red Rock Canyon: Parks
They chose the desert spot because it resembles the Valles Marineris Valles Marineris (Latin for Mariner Valleys, named after the Mariner 9 Mars orbiter of 1971-72 which discovered it) is a vast canyon system that runs along the Martian equator just east of the Tharsis region. on Mars, a canyon system 2,400 miles long and more than five miles deep. Scientists hope to fly the Mars plane through the Valles, top to bottom, to image and measure with a suite of instruments its layered walls, each pancaked section a chapter in the planet's ancient past.
``We won't have to drill 10 kilometer-deep holes in the planet; we'll have it all there exposed,'' Calvin said.
But flying on Mars will be no mean feat: Its atmosphere is only 1 percent as dense as the Earth's at sea level, giving wings trying to generate lift a workout.
``The thin atmosphere forces you into a flight regime the world doesn't have a lot of experience with,'' Miralles said.
Traveling as fast as 180 mph, the plane would require a tremendous turning radius The turning radius or turning circle of a vehicle is the radius of the smallest circular turn (eg. U-turn) that the vehicle is capable of making. It is often used as a generalized term rather than a numerical figure. , making terrain avoidance tricky, if not impossible.
And compounding the problem, by the time it takes any command to make the one-way trip from Earth to Mars, the plane will likely already have crashed at the end of its 15- to 30-minute flight, requiring it to be absolutely autonomous in its operation.
NASA has tossed around the idea of flying a plane on Mars since the 1970s; so why now has the idea gained such currency, especially when the agency has undertaken an ambitious program to poke, prod, sample and image the planet using rovers, landers and orbiters?
Because planes fill a niche between all three, Miralles said.
Rovers, like Mars Pathfinder's Sojourner, can travel only short distances, generally in comparatively boring areas of the planet. And orbiters, like the Mars Global Surveyor The Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) was a US spacecraft developed by NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and launched November 1996. It began the United States's return to Mars after a 20-year absence. , can get only so close to the planet's surface.
A plane, though, can cover great distances through rough - and thus geologically interesting - terrain.
``You will get a regional perspective you just can't get from a rover or a satellite,'' Calvin said.
The JPL/AeroVironment prototype, developed at the latter's Simi Valley design development center, has an impressive pedigree.
AeroVironment excels in building airplanes that fly at extreme altitudes - like the massive solar-powered Centurion it will test later this summer and hopes to later fly at 100,000 feet - or that are extremely tiny, like the Black Widow, a saucer-sized plane that made a 22-minute flight in early March.
Merge the two, Miralles said, and you have a plane capable of being tightly packed to make it to Mars and that can fly in its atmosphere, which is like flying at 100,000 feet above Earth.
What the Mars plane - or planes, as NASA may send two - will carry is still undecided as well. The team responsible for defining the instrument load has met just once; it will meet again this week at JPL.
Calvin said it is likely the plane will carry at the minimum a camera, a spectrometer to do analysis of the canyon walls' composition and a magnetometer to measure the planet's magnetic fields magnetic fields,
n.pl the spaces in which magnetic forces are detectable; created by magnetostrictive ultrasonic scalers to cause the tips of instruments such as ultrasonic scalers to vibrate. .
The Mars plane will be the first Mars Micromission, a class of lightweight missions NASA hopes to repeat every two years, said Steve Matousek, JPL's Micromissions study lead.
The missions will be piggybacked aboard a French Ariane V rocket. The French have promised NASA can carry about 500 pounds of spacecraft and payload aloft each launch, beginning in November 2002 when the Mars plane will blast off.
Although NASA has already realized the publicity value of the Mars plane and the prestige it would bring - Miralles said the competition among NASA's various centers, including JPL, to land the project is so fierce one consultant called it the biggest ``porkathon'' ever seen, but without the money, it will probably turn out to be more than a one-time stunt, experts said.
``If we are going to continue to explore Mars it is going to involve airplanes,'' said Mike Ravine, an advanced projects manager at Malin Space Science Systems Malin Space Science Systems (or MSSS) is a San Diego, California company that designs, develops, and operates instruments to fly on unmanned spacecraft. MSSS is headed by chief scientist and CEO Michael C. Malin. , a San Diego aerospace company that collaborated on NASA Ames' competing Mars plane proposal.
PHOTO (1--Color in Conejo and Simi Editions only) Carlos Miralles, project manager at Monrovia-based AeroVironment, shows the prototype of a plane being tested for a Mars flight.
(2-3--Color in Conejo and Simi Editions only) (Photo 2 ran in Conejo and Simi Editions only) (Photo 3 ran in Conejo, Simi and AV Editions only) NASA hopes to fly a plane across the surface of Mars in 2003, marking the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' historic flight. A plane could offer the advantage of maneuverability.