When it comes to the concept of flying drones in space, we really can’t be all that surprised anymore, can we? We’ve seen it in movies and TV too many times to count and it’s made excited every time. Now though, it seems that NASA is actually thinking of doing this by having drones become space prospectors.
The Swamp Works lab at the Kennedy Space Center of NASA have their engineering teams working on the development of drone robots that will be used for gathering samples and materials on places like Mars or even asteroids.
“The first step in being able to use resources on Mars or an asteroid is to find out where the resources are,” said Swamp Works Senior Technologist Rob Mueller in a media statement. “They are most likely in hard-to-access areas where there is permanent shadow. Some of the crater walls are angled 30 degrees or more, and that’s far too steep for a traditional rover to navigate and climb.”
NASA writer Steven Siceloff said, “The machines would be able to execute hundreds of explorative sorties during their mission. The drones would be small enough for a lander to bring several of them to the surface at once, so if one fails, the mission isn’t lost.”
Now, since space is pretty much devoid of atmosphere, the drones will have to have a propulsion system that is significantly bigger or more advanced than those use on earth. They will also be equipped with special sensors since there is no GPS in space. For the former, the drones will have cold-gas jets which are systems that employ oxygen or water vapor for lift as well as to maneuver. For the latter, the drones will be given special programs for terrain recognition and guidance.
Supposedly, these systems will allow for several minutes or hours of flight on varied surfaces while in space.
In terms of launching drones into space, NASA has done something similar the year before when they deployed a quadcopter drone on Titan to explore the surface.
It was called the Titan Aerial Daughtercraft. It weighed 22 pounds and it was meant to detach from a balloon or lander and would then proceed to “acquire close-up, high resolution imagery and mapping data of the surface, land at multiple locations to acquire microscopic imagery and samples of solid and liquid material, return the samples to the mothership for analysis, and recharge from an RTG on the mothership to enable multiple sorties.”