A parallel Worlds

Sunday October 31 2010 / Science & Technology

The science and technology of developing a new airplane these days are fairly well understood. Computer simulations of the surfaces, materials, shapes and atmosphere can pretty much guarantee that how a plane flies in the program will not be far off how it flies in real life.

But imagine designing a plane to fly on Mars. Well the ARES project is doing just that. While the acronym ARES - Aerial Regional-scale Environmental Survey of Mars  - looks more than a little forced, the name is appropriate as "Ares" was the Greek God of War and "Mars" was the Roman God of war (who the Romans identified with Ares)

ARES is planned to expand upon the Viking, Mars Global Surveyor, Odyssey, Mars Express, and Mars Exploration Rover discoveries, by providing a window into the structure and evolution of the Mars atmosphere, surface, and interior.  ARES is designed to return critical science data across up to 610 km of diverse terrain in one of the most scientifically intriguing regions of Mars: the Southern Highlands. 

ARES has three science goals:

Crustal Magnetism: ARES enables an improved understanding of the detailed nature of crustal magnetism on Mars and modeling of Mars' crustal evolution, tectonic history and the chronology of its dynamo.

Atmospheric Boundary Layer Composition, Chemistry and Dynamics: ARES enables an improved understanding of the near-surface atmospheric composition, chemistry and dynamic behavior, and the chemical coupling between the surface and atmosphere, with unprecedented accuracy and range.
Near-Surface Water: ARES enables an improved understanding of water equivalent hydrogen abundance and its relationship to inferred near-surface water and hydrated minerals. 

From its unique vantage point 1.5 km above the surface of Mars, ARES will target and explore up to 610 km of diverse terrain in the Southern Highlands. Science data will be returned to Earth on the day of flight for immediate scientific review and public dissemination.

ARES' airplane has been developed to autonomously complete a pre-planned science survey. It accommodates Mars environment uncertainty through its robust stability and control performance. The ARES mission implementation strategy includes flight-proven systems, large margins, and a successful, ongoing airplane deployment assurance program to achieve both mission flexibility and low risk.
A 50% scale model has already flown from a 30,000m/100,000' high altitude balloon


Full video of Joel Levine, planetary scientest and the Ares project's principle investigator, explaining on TED why we should go back to Mars, highlighting intriguing new discoveries, craters full of ice, traces of ancient oceans, and some compelling hints of life in the presence and the past.

For more information, please visit http://marsairplane.larc.nasa.gov

Suggested by
Carlos Torres