NASA Langley Research Center researchers have developed an airplane capable of being stowed in a confined volume and deployed in a high-altitude environment for extended-duration flight operations in a low-density atmosphere.
Engineers, scientists, and end users can take advantage of this innovation that provides previously unattainable high-altitude flight operations. The airplane is delivered to a specified altitude folded in a container or rocket. Once released, the plane unfolds and executes a pull-up maneuver to stabilize altitude. In addition, the current suite of onboard scientific instrumentation includes magnetometers, a mass spectrometer, and variable-use cameras. NASA is seeking market insights on commercialization of the new airplane design, and welcomes interest from potential producers, users, and licensees.
The airplane can be folded in a confined volume, transported by a carrier vehicle, and deployed after delivery to terrestrial or extraterrestrial venues. The innovation includes the stowaway capsule, and the aerodynamic design of the airplane enables flight in low-density atmospheres such as on Mars. The airplane configuration includes the airfoil sections, folding method, and the outer mold line. The plane has the capability to maneuver in the Martian atmosphere at an atmospheric pressure comparable to 100,000 feet above sea level on Earth.
During flight operations, the airplane employs a host of scientific instrumentation for study of atmospheric properties such as composition, chemistry, and dynamic behavior; crustal magnetism for improved understanding of crustal evolution and tectonic history; and near-surface hydrogen abundance to locate underground water and hydrated minerals. NASA developed the Mars airplane to improve measurement resolution capabilities beyond that of ground rovers and satellite surveyors. The use of an extended-flight, maneuverable airplane in low-density atmospheric conditions provides previously unavailable planetary research capabilities.
Potential applications include climate monitoring, weather pattern detection, high-resolution scientific measurements, terrain mapping, locating near-surface water, planetary magnetic field pattern detection, forest fire monitoring, storm tracking and research, and search and rescue communication relay.