NASA Plans to Explore New Planets Using Small Drones

Drones are slowly taking over world. Scientists have been already been using small drones to hover over the earth at low altitudes, monitoring the world and recording data. Called CubeSats, these satellites have rapidly gained popularity over the past few years due to their cheap but efficient design made of common consumer electronics materials. But now, scientists have discovered a way to use these easily produced drones in interplanetary travel.

Jaime Esper, a technologist at NASA, is leading this research titled the CubeSat Application for Planetary Entry Missions, or CAPE. He and his team have designed a prototype model called the Micro-Reentry Capsule (MIRCA), which is ready to take flight this summer.

Image Source: NASA

Breakthrough in Satellite Technology

Esper’s CAPE design involves two modules: one that will transport the satellite to its destination, and another probe that will transmit data from the location back to the scientists. The capsule, weighing less than 11 pounds and measuring less than 4 inches on its longest side, runs on solar energy and an internal battery to travel into the planetary body. The team plans to have the MIRCA equipped with accelerometers, gyroscopes, thermal sensors, pressure sensors, and radiometers to transmit information such as atmospheric pressure, temperature, and composition data.

Sending Drones to Explore the Galaxy

This summer, Esper schedules for the MIRCA to be dropped from an elevation of about 18.6 miles (30 kilometers) to test its durability and functionality at velocities near the speed of sound. This will landmark the first time that a CubeSat planetary entry capsule is flight-tested. In a year from now, Esper also intends to drop a capsule from the International Space Station to expose it to more realistic spaceflight conditions and perfect the model’s design.

Because of their low price, CubeSats will give scientists the opportunity to launch multiple spacecrafts to survey large amounts of data at once, which is not available with current technology. Their inexpensive cost also allows universities and organizations with low budgets to engage in planetary exploration; the readily accessible materials used to build CubeSats make them prime candidates for open-source modification and hardware hacking. With a growing task force and an affordable budget, a revolution in space travel is at our fingertips.


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