Infoscience

Conference paper

SKY-SAILOR Design of an autonomous solar powered martian airplane

For more than two decades, Mars has been of great interest for scientific exploration, using orbiting spacecrafts or landers. Orbiters like “Mars Express” cover large areas and give images of the surface with a resolution limited to several meters. Rovers missions, like “Pathfinder” or “MER”, offer the ability to maneuver to scientifically interesting sites, perform analysis of soil and rock composition, but are limited in range to the immediate surroundings of the landing site. There is a strategic gap for systems that would combine high-resolution imagery and extensive coverage. This gap can be addressed by micro-airplanes that will give more accurate images than satellites, thanks to their proximity to the ground (about 0.5 to 2 km) and cover much larger areas than rovers without being limited by terrain roughness. This paper presents a feasibility study and the first design of a very lightweight solar powered airplane for Mars exploration. Called Sky-Sailor, it was investigated in an ESA definition study within the framework of the Startiger technology program.

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