We Spaniards and humans will likely have to wait until Mars to see us, but the Spanish brand 'Made in Spain’ will be on the first European Space Agency (ESA), drone that will go into space to study the red planet. This expedition is part the AERIAL project, which is directly competing with NASA's Ingenuity drone. The companies that designed the unmanned aerial vehicle were SENER Aeroespacial in Spain, a provider of aerospace systems and Aerdron, a company that specializes in designing drones.
This is a huge technological challenge that has three main obstacles. First, Mars' atmosphere is 100 times denser than Earth's. Propellers are used to fly drones using air as their medium. The propellers' efficiency is affected by the atmospheric density. They push less so they must be long and narrow (almost like knives). However, this allows them to reduce and optimize the drone's mass.
A second problem, related to atmospheric density, is that the drone has a lower ability to heat exchange (the more air, the smaller the cooling capacity). Rodriguez explains that this can cause the electronics and motors of the drone to heat up to very high temperatures. This is why an efficient and delicate heat evacuation system is necessary. Thirdly, the drone must be fully autonomous since no one can pilot it. It cannot operate in real-time and must have a tolerance for failures since it cannot ever be repaired on Mars.
The proposed drone is equipped with six propellers to overcome these problems. Rodriguez says that the ESA chose them because they have three separate arms, known as "Y6" in the world drones. Each arm is separated by 120o and has two motors. The motors rotate in opposite directions. This configuration is different than the one NASA used in its Martian drone. It offers us many advantages such as greater fault tolerance since our vehicle can fly in any combination of engines, or two, depending on conditions." Add.
It is designed to fly between 5-10 meters above the ground. To avoid the possibility of raising Martian dust, the drone will be within a one-kilometer radius of the ground exploration vehicle (rover), which will change and charge the battery. The Spanish drone will also carry several high resolution cameras that will take photos and create a 3D terrain map. The drone will be equipped with protection against cold, heat dissipation systems, and mechanisms to stop Martian dust from entering its electronics and motors. It will also have autonomous navigation equipment, which will enable it to determine the height and position of the base robot, and then fly to the chosen point without the assistance of a pilot.
Space exploration drones are different from other unmanned vehicles like rovers in that they can overcome obstacles and other problems on the terrain. You can also access more places and get better images from higher elevations. The downsides include the fact that it is light enough to fly, and therefore cannot carry large loads like ground vehicles. The drone's range and flight time are limited by the battery weight and their load.
This device's design and prototyping phases will take between two and three year. They will provide an overview of the future European Mars drone, but it will also be ready for flight on Mars. It will be a technology demonstration drone that will fly in a simulator to replicate the environment and dusty surface on Mars. The specialist says that there are still many phases to design, test, and verify before any object is sent to Mars. However, the demonstrator's design and technology will be used to build the European Martian drone that will fly into orbit.
"The Spanish space industry (SENER Aeroespacial, Aerdron) was able to create a prototype that could fly in simulated Mars conditions. This technology is unique in Europe. Rodriguez says that the experience will demonstrate the industry's capabilities in developing highly advanced equipment capable of flying in another planet's atmosphere.