Engineers design albatross-inspired, wind-powered Mars sailplane

A motorless sailplane is being developed by University of Arizona engineers to study the atmosphere and geology of Mars.

According to the researchers, the sailplane can fly over the Martian surface for days at a time while just using wind energy for propulsion.

The team is working with Alexandre Kling, a research scientist at NASA's Mars Climate Modeling Center, to create Mars sailplanes that would weigh about 11 pounds each and be fitted with cameras

temperature and gas sensors as well as flight sensors to learn more about the Martian atmosphere.

Image Credit:smithsonianmagazine

A recent tethered launch of an early sailplane by the researchers saw it gently drop to Earth while still being connected to a balloon.

Image Credit:devidsource

The researchers claim that the Mars sailplanes will employ a variety of flight techniques, including straightforward static soaring when strong enough vertical winds are present.

They can also use a manoeuvre known as "dynamic soaring," which, like an albatross on a lengthy flight

takes advantage of the tendency of horizontal wind speed to rise with altitude, a feature that is particularly frequent on the Red Planet.

According to the press release, as a sailplane changes directions, it also starts to change height, and this manoeuvre aids in the sailplane's acceleration rather than slowing it down.

The aircraft fly into the low-altitude, slowly moving wind at a slight upward angle. 

They turn 180 degrees and allow the high-speed wind to propel them ahead at a modest downward inclination once they reach the faster, higher wind.

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