back to article NASA plans robot rocket aeroplane to fly above Mars

NASA intends to build a robot rocketplane the size of a light aircraft and send it across space to fly the skies of Mars: and the space agency wants help in building it. Concept of the ARES droid-plane unfurling in the skies above Mars. Credit: NASA Langley Not quite so impressed with our tripod walker machines now, are we …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sounds boring to me

    Compared with

    1. Putting something on the ground that can crawl around for years continuously sending back new and interesting data

    2. Getting a sample of Mars rock back to the Earth for proper analysis

    this proposal sounds really dull.

  2. Simon Neill

    Lets hope...

    they get plane sailing.

  3. Tom_


    "The droid aeroplane is known, slightly confusingly, as ARES (Aerial Regional-scale Environmental Surveyor), "

    Oh come on, that's clearly ARSES.

    1. Anonymous John

      Beat me to it. :(

      How about Aerial Regional-scale Explorer With Integral Propulsion Engine?

      1. Anonymous John

        02:53 GMT?

        I'm in the UK. No way did I post that then. I was fast asleep. Is that the time El Reg moderated it?

        (Posted at 10:17 GMT)

  4. lglethal Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Your obviously not an Aerospace Engineer, AC

    This looks positively mouth watering to me... OK life expectancy's shit but the idea of designing something that would be the first thing designed to fly, and i mean properly fly, in a non-earth atmosphere (landers do not fly, they crash. And parachutes are just a slow way of crashing...) is seriously intriguing. Not to mention the idea of trying to design something the size of a light aircraft to fit inside a rocket and then to unfold whilst plummeting to the martain surface at a dizzying rate of knots... The techincal challenges are awesome - thats why i became an aerospace boffin in the first place!

    Bring it on...!

  5. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. nick 64

    Baloon instead?

    Why not a baloon....? wouldn't it last much much longer and be much much simpler?

  7. Albert Gonzalez

    Nuclear air turbines

    You 'just' need to use the nuclear fuel to heat the air inside the combustion chamber of the turbine.

    Also, it can use the turbine to move a small electric generator, wich can be used to start the rotation of the engine, if the initial airspeed isn't up to it.

    Really easy to test, just 1 moving part, very very long endurance ( as long as the fuel is hot enough )

  8. Stevie


    BAK-bakbakbakbak! BakbakBAKbakbak! BakbakbakBAK!

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nuclear power?

    RTGs need 238-Pu. NASA have about 20kg available to them at the moment, and all of this is required for missions currently in development. There's no more in production. See-

  10. Paul_Murphy

    What about a balloon?

    Wouldn't a balloon be a better idea?

    cruise for ages for very little power,

    adjustable height,

    slow enough to do some really detailed scans, and

    packing a big bag is going to be a lot easier than wings that need to unfold and lock at high speeds.

    I would imagine that a 'mars' propellor would have to be quite big, and as a result the torque would try and twist the aircraft around, so I can see why a jet would be more useful.

    I also wonder if any consideration to hang-gliders has been given since a hang-glider could be packed really easily, give lots of low-speed lift, be nice and strong and pretty easy to control.


  11. Brett Leach
    Thumb Up

    Stuff the hinges. An inflatable.

    An inflatable wing with spray on flexible solar panels seems like something that could be doable in a very favourable weight envelope. It might well be possible to get close to neutral bouyancy if hydrogen is used as the inflating gas. It would then only take a very small amount of thrust to keep the plane airborne.

    For that matter, a semi rigid hydrogen balloon with a heating element would make a decent small payload carrier if they could be made light enough to dump a dozen or more with a single Discovery mission. Bonus points for spray on solar power.

  12. JasonH


    I think X-Plane has/had a Mars flight simulation built into it. Very awkward flight regime due to the thinness of the atmosphere (you have to fly very, very fast in true groundspeed terms yet with low equivalent true airspeed: minimum control action, else you stall the plane - a very odd combination).

    Presumably the thinness of the atmosphere would also screw up attempts at lighter-than-air flight too, but I'll let others comment on that.

    Personally I would rather a decent sized rover, or multiple rovers, to scout around the red planet. I mean, what exactly do they expect to find on Mars? Water? Life? Airports?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Long way to go

    rather than put a telephoto lens in an orbiter

  14. jonathan keith
    Paris Hilton

    Vulture 1?

    Surely El Reg's experience with the PARIS project and Vulture 1 (how's that coming along, by the way?) will prove useful to the NASA boffins.

  15. Annihilator
    Paris Hilton

    Reminds me

    What's happening to your paper plane expidition? PARIS?

  16. Michael 10

    cost vs science

    Normally I'm all for spending money on science, I say we should spend as much as we can. But for the billions this would cost, it doesn't seem worth it, especially in the press.

    Everybody loves the twin rovers, they've lasted years, and years past their expected date. This on the other hand would have a similar price tag (research, prototypes, testing, more testing, etc is the majority of the cost), but only get an hour and a half of data. While I realize that's a ton for scientists, and can take years to go through, it's a lot of risk for relatively little gain.

    And there is a lot more risk to a flying machine than a rover, after the rover lands (crashes), as long as it boots it can do science, one of the rovers has been running for years with a bum wheel. A plane on the other hand would have to initialize almost perfectly, if the wings don't lock, or don't bend far enough, or the engine clogs, or the sensors jam, etc, then you have a very expensive unprotected dead weight falling to the ground.

    Wouldn't an inflatable be more cost effective? It would need only a small power source to move, and give more controllabillity, you could hover over an interest spot on the ground, or in an especially fluffy cloud. And as long as it inflates and holds pressure, it won't crash, even if every part on it fails except a camera and the balloon, it would still move in the atmosphere and it would be useful.

  17. Neil Stansbury
    Thumb Down

    Why go to all that effort for 90 minutes?

    What's wrong with a balloon or even plural?

    IMO this seems to be more of an engineers wet dream than a genuinely useful space mission.

  18. Hugh Jorgen
    Paris Hilton

    You're welcome

    That's 'you're', but why would anyone dream of whipping out a spelling lame a boffin? *ZING*

    Seriously though, the flight time is pants. How's about this for a crazy idea....a balloon that can float around, maybe even with a propulsion system for steering. That's old school flying, and could go on for a very long time. But no, the rocket powered flyboys with their noisy, hypersonic, dick extensions wouldn't want to go for staying power when they can 'thrust, thrust, wham bam thank you martian ma'am.'.

    Paris, because she know's about the whamming and the bamming.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    One for Vulture 1 surely?

    Come on, let's send Lester to Mars!

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ AC 13:44

    the Spirit and Opportunity rovers' mission was originally 3 months, not 6 years: the additional life is testament to the quality of the original design and operational skill acquired in keeping them going.

    Anyway, if you're so clever, where's your Mars sample return mission? Hmm?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Too many Areses

    We have Ares I the huge manned rocket, Ares V the stupidly big rocket and now ARES the plane - this is a recipe for confusion.

    I'm with Tom_ above - ARSES please.

  22. Stevie


    [4 lglethal] Then I hope your facility with Hard Sums is better than that demonstrated with English spelling and capitalisation, or we'll end up with another "oops, were we working in metric then?" fiasco or Mysteriously Inverting Model Mars Plane Syndrome.


    Why wouldn't an aerostat (blimp) be a better choice than a fixed-wing powered aircraft here?

  23. Eugene Goodrich


    Wouldn't a balloon have a long (much longer) runtime, get better in-close detail than an orbiter, and cover more ground than a rover?

  24. Bounty

    Why the hell a rocket plane?

    . Why not use a balloon? You could put solar panels on top, have the same long life like the rovers + cover huge amount of territory. Sure you are at the mercy of the wind, but same thing with a plane, but with only 1.5 hours to work with. Plus a balloon could tell you much more about the atmosphere there by raising or lowering, charting currents etc. I think a balloon would have a lower chance for catastrophic failure.

  25. Kevin 6


    Why don't they just mass produce the rover and send like 100-200 of em up there at once. Add on a optional parts module if they want some with different instruments. Probably would cost less than 1 airplane that might fail big time. Also would probably give way more info too.

  26. Secretgeek

    @"Why go to all that effort for ninety minutes?"

    That's what my wife said.


  27. 0laf Silver badge


    I'm with the Balloonists. A blimp sounds a much better idea. Ok propellors might not work or work well but even if the thing was just left do drift in the wind in high atmosphere is could provide a lot of interesting data and last for a lot longer.

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