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ESA Shows Off Quadcopter Landing Concept For Mars Rovers

samzenpus posted about 4 months ago | from the drop-that-anywhere dept.

Mars 104

coondoggie writes Taking a page from NASA's rocket powered landing craft from its most recent Mars landing mission, the European Space Agency is showing off a quadcopter that the organization says can steer itself to smoothly lower a rover onto a safe patch of the rocky Martian surface. The ESA said its dropship, known as the StarTiger's Dropter is indeed a customized quadcopter drone that uses a GPS, camera and inertial systems to fly into position, where it then switches to vision-based navigation supplemented by a laser range-finder and barometer to lower and land a rover autonomously.

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GPS on Mars (4, Funny)

AF_Cheddar_Head (1186601) | about 4 months ago | (#47403457)

Really, are you sure it isn't Galileo?

Re:GPS on Mars (4, Funny)

frovingslosh (582462) | about 4 months ago | (#47403729)

a customized quadcopter drone that uses a GPS, camera and inertial systems to fly into position .....

Yup, hate to break it to you rocket scientists at NASA, but there is a slight flaw in this design for use on Mars.

Re:GPS on Mars (4, Interesting)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 4 months ago | (#47403779)

a customized quadcopter drone that uses a GPS, camera and inertial systems to fly into position .....

Yup, hate to break it to you rocket scientists at NASA, but there is a slight flaw in this design for use on Mars.

I'd suspect those rocket scientists planned to, oh, I dunno, put GPS satellites into orbit around mars prior to landing the rover?

Re:GPS on Mars (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47403895)

ESA, not NASA

Re:GPS on Mars (1)

currently_awake (1248758) | about 4 months ago | (#47403905)

With the density of air on Mars you'll need rather large helicopter blades to get sufficient lift.

Re:GPS on Mars (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 4 months ago | (#47405143)

Which is why this is so interesting.

Re:GPS on Mars (1)

Vulch (221502) | about 4 months ago | (#47405683)

As a proof of concept running a quadcopter is a lot easier, but for an actual Mars landing it wouldn't be too difficult to build one with rockets instead of rotors. Hobbyist quadcopter autopilots will run a wide variety of motors with a few tweaks to parameters, rotors to rockets is a larger step but not beyond the realm of a reasonable software project.

Re:GPS on Mars (1)

kuiken (115647) | about 4 months ago | (#47405719)

A quadcopter is are partly steered by torque. I dont think it would be simple to switch from rotors to rockets

Re:GPS on Mars (1)

Yoda222 (943886) | about 4 months ago | (#47405747)

It's quite easy to generate torque with rockets. The relation torque/vertical force is not the same, but the concept is similar.

Re:GPS on Mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47407303)

which would be a waste of fuel. So, do you want to waste fuel, or simply re-do your coding?

Re:GPS on Mars (1)

rtb61 (674572) | about 4 months ago | (#47406309)

So the smart designer would incorporate the solar panels into the blades so that upon landing when folded up they could serve another purpose. It is all about making the best use of mass.

Re:GPS on Mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47407875)

Potentially you could land a very small rover (or even non-rover!) extremely accurately if you identify The Coolest Feature On Mars.

Re:GPS on Mars (1)

Intron (870560) | about 4 months ago | (#47404201)

MPS maybe, not GPS.

Re:GPS on Mars (2)

magarity (164372) | about 4 months ago | (#47404643)

Umm, Mars is also a globe.

You have the faith of a small child (1)

frovingslosh (582462) | about 4 months ago | (#47404839)

I sure don't suspect that. Putting up a GPS constellation is no small task. And here on earth there is a significant Earth bound support network that the GPS network interacts with to keep everything working.

Yes, it seems crazy that a space agency could overlook this. But less crazy than putting an entire GPS system in place. I actually think that this is more likely to be a manifestation of extremely poor journalism. But there is not going to be a GPS system in place over Mars before this gizmo ever attempts to make a landing, and if it really uses GPS in making a landing it isn't going to work.

Re:You have the faith of a small child (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47406437)

I sure don't suspect that. Putting up a GPS constellation is no small task. And here on earth there is a significant Earth bound support network that the GPS network interacts with to keep everything working.

ESA has already been involved in putting one of the three positioning systems in place on Earth. (Not GPS since that is a US project.) I'm pretty sure they know how it's done.
Hopefully copying the one they have on Earth wouldn't be as costly as developing it in the first place.

Re:You have the faith of a small child (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47407351)

Not really. The GPS (and analogs) are complex because of all the extra capabilities that they have. For example, they all have the ability to encode differently for military vs. civilian. In addition, all have off switches, etc.
OTOH, there are now small atomic clocks [profsurv.com] , small transmitters that will fit inside of nanosats. And if a bit bigger, they can actually use these as relay sats as well as having on-line processing.

Re:GPS on Mars (2)

JWSmythe (446288) | about 4 months ago | (#47405405)

That would be a cool trick. I think it will be a long long time before we see that.

GPS, and GLONASS have 24 satellites for global coverage. Galileo has 27. Beidou has 10 right now, but has limited coverage. It will have 35 when it's fully operational.

Most (all?) require ground stations to keep them updated, so it isn't just a matter of throwing some satellites up and having GPS on another planet. As I recall, GPS satellite service will degrade to unusable somewhere between 90 to 180 days. [insert obligatory apocalypse reference]

Theoretically with GPS, you can lock with 3, but that assumes a highly clock on the receiver. Our phones and GPS receivers aren't that accurate, so we require 4 satellites.

But I believe this was dumbed down for the casual reader, so they said "GPS". Using the known location of the orbital vehicle, gravitational center of mars, magnetic poles, and stars optically with a sextant, and using inertial sensors, they could put it down on a precise target.

They might use GPS for test flights here, since we have the luxury on this rock. They aren't accounting for other things with their tests right now. Like the Mars average ground level air pressure is 0.087psi. The summit of Mount Everest is 4.89psi. The highest surface air pressure they'll get on Marswould be Hellas Planitia at 0.168psi.

They're going to need some *huge* propellers on their quadcopter. Flying on Mars is like flying at just over 100,000 feet on Earth. The record for any propeller aircraft is the Boeing Condor UAV with no payload, at 67,028 feet.

The record altitude for a helicopter in Earth's atmosphere is 40,820 feet, and it also got the record for the longest autorotation when the helicopter stopped flying. :)

But other than navigation, and lack of atmospheric pressure, it could work fine. :)

Re:GPS on Mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47405493)

Yes, you need larger blades, but having ~1/3 the gravity helps a bit.

Re:GPS on Mars (1)

JWSmythe (446288) | about 4 months ago | (#47405685)

I'd love to see something like that functional. It could really change what we're doing there. quadcopter or quadcopter/fixed wing hybrids, could do really well exploring the surface of Mars. It's not like there's a rush to get anywhere. They could lay out with solar panels extended for weeks to charge, and then fly for miles. It wouldn't be practical for moving lots of equipment, but it could grab samples and bring them back to the rover/base.

They'd need to take into consideration those pesky sandstorms though. It's not a great place for an aircraft, unless they can automatically secure it. Like have a screw anchor it to the ground (like a tent screw or dog tiedown), and a cover to extend over it and secure itself. Then there's the matter of digging itself out after the storm without killing the batteries.

Re:GPS on Mars (4, Informative)

faffod (905810) | about 4 months ago | (#47403795)

a customized quadcopter drone that uses a GPS, camera and inertial systems to fly into position .....

Yup, hate to break it to you rocket scientists at NASA, but there is a slight flaw in this design for use on Mars.

I hate to break it to you, but ESA is the rocket scientists in Europe, not NASA....

Re:GPS on Mars (2)

RNLockwood (224353) | about 4 months ago | (#47404437)

Well, the up front costs for the Martian GPS system will be high, that is to say, astronomical. May be some maintenance problems as well. Other than that and the near absence of an atmosphere it sounds good to go.

Re:GPS on Mars (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 4 months ago | (#47406217)

GPS is just a stand-in for the system they would use on Mars, which would be a much simplified version using existing satellites and the transport vehicle for the lander itself.

The atmosphere in Mars is fine for a quadcopter if designed correctly. How do you think the parachutes on NASA landers work?

Re:GPS on Mars (1)

RNLockwood (224353) | about 4 months ago | (#47406851)

GPS is just a stand-in for the system they would use on Mars, which would be a much simplified version using existing satellites and the transport vehicle for the lander itself.

The atmosphere in Mars is fine for a quadcopter if designed correctly. How do you think the parachutes on NASA landers work?

I'm not sure what you mean by "simpler" system, what would it be? AFAIK it takes signals from 4 GPS satellites to get a fix, I think that it could be done with 3 having knowledge of the approximate position. That's with 3 or 4 satellites with GPS electronics in view at once. This implies that there need to be several more than 3 satellites in the constellation to be certain of having 3 or 4 in the correct position at any time. I don't think that the orbits of multi purpose satellites would be the ones needed for GPS.

Parachutes are used to slow the descent rate of the landers and are then cut away as the descent rate is still pretty high. Other methods need to be used to bring the lander to touchdown. I guess some engineers experienced in origami might be able to design a multiple rotor copter that would be compact in transit yet unfold properly once the parachute slows the descent rate etc, etc, etc.

Re: GPS on Mars (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47404497)

Esa work in partnership with nasa

Re:GPS on Mars (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 4 months ago | (#47405347)

Why should be ESA be less capable of installing a global positioning system around Mars than NASA?

Re:GPS on Mars (1)

slew (2918) | about 4 months ago | (#47408073)

It isn't about capability, it's about € the ESA can't afford to put up Galileo, l suspect that putting up a global navigation system around Mars would be a bit cost prohibitive for this application.

Part of the problem with deploying a GNS is that you need ground uplink station for reference correction (inertial clock correction and fault detection isn't generally sufficient for good long term accuracy). At least they might have less of a problem with ionospheric propagation delay (Mars still has a single layer of ionosphere, though, and since Mars doesn't have much of a magnetic field, it's subject to lots of solar wind effects, so very little is known about correcting for it).

No worries, though, I doubt the ESA isn't thinking about a Martian GNS for this, it's just a research project which happened to use GPS for coarse location. The real technology uses a vision-based navigation supplemented by a laser range-finder and barometer.

Re:GPS on Mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47407255)

Of course, it is your ESA, or Europe Space Agency, that is doing this, not NASA.
Of course, with your inability to read and comprehend, combined with your european engineering issues, I can see what ESA has not been able to land on Mars.

European Probes (3, Funny)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | about 4 months ago | (#47403467)

Being a European probe, once landed it will open a small cafe serving croissants and excellent espresso.

Re:European Probes (4, Funny)

Nutria (679911) | about 4 months ago | (#47403493)

Being a European probe, once landed it will ...

Moan and bitch about Spirit & Opportunity spying on it, while in turn spying on economically valuable sectors of Spirit & Opportunity.

Re:European Probes (1)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | about 4 months ago | (#47403565)

Being a European probe, once landed it will ...

Moan and bitch about Spirit & Opportunity spying on it, while in turn spying on economically valuable sectors of Spirit & Opportunity.

More likely it will just overcharge them for coffee when they present dollars instead of Euros.

Re:European Probes (1)

dunng808 (448849) | about 4 months ago | (#47403509)

We have GPS on Mars? I like the cafe idea, American probes are so anal.

Re: European Probes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47403751)

I see what you did there.

Re:European Probes (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about 4 months ago | (#47403525)

Or a FUTBOL stadium.

Re:European Probes (1)

Snufu (1049644) | about 4 months ago | (#47404229)

Being a European probe, once landed it will open a small cafe serving croissants and excellent espresso.

Warning: Probe components designed by different European countries may refuse to communicate with each other.

This is not going to work. (5, Interesting)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 4 months ago | (#47403477)

Mars has an atmosphere. Barely - atmospheric pressure is 0.006 earth-atmospheres. Maybe 0.01 if the weather is right and at a low enough point. You'd get bugger-all lift from a 'copter, quad or otherwise. Even in the nice one-third G, that thing isn't flying. It's hard enough getting something down by parachute - those rovers have to be built to take a nasty impact, because even with a huge parachute and low gravity they still hit the ground hard.

Re:This is not going to work. (1)

fche (36607) | about 4 months ago | (#47403563)

They must be planning ahead for the time when terraforming is complete.

Re:This is not going to work. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47404301)

That also would explain the use of GPS on a planet that doesn't have a GPS constellation yet.

Re:This is not going to work. (2)

roc97007 (608802) | about 4 months ago | (#47403583)

That was my thought also. What's next, eighth ray buoyancy tanks?

Re:This is not going to work. (1)

samwichse (1056268) | about 4 months ago | (#47406455)

Edgar Rice Burroughs FTW

Came here to see this comment, wasn't disappointed.

Re: This is not going to work. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47403643)

Nor will GPS help much on Mars. It's like this is a thinly veined cover for developing a military drone for dropping materiel into a battle zone. Everything about it seems geared towards terrestrial use.

Re: This is not going to work. (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 4 months ago | (#47405537)

A possibility, but a poor cover. If I wished to covertly develop a military supply delivery system - and I wouldn't, because there's nothing really illicit about that to justify such a cover-up - I would think disaster relief a better justification. Think of a truck loaded with a hundred of these things driving as far as it can into an area struck by earthquake, hurricane, or other natural disaster - the drones launch, fly away, seek out survivors, and drop to each one a 'three day survival pack' consisting of water, some high-energy food, antiseptic, bandages, and possibly a thermal blanket if weather requires. Just enough to keep everyone alive and well while the human rescuers clear the roads and get the long-term disaster relief workers in.

Re:This is not going to work. (0)

AK Marc (707885) | about 4 months ago | (#47403645)

This is what I came to read. Someone asserting NASA's calculations on air worthiness being wrong. No evidence. Just some assertions that it'd be hard, so we should consider it impossible, even if NASA says it's possible.

Re:This is not going to work. (3, Informative)

fche (36607) | about 4 months ago | (#47403673)

It's ESA, not NASA, and the focus of the work was apparently the vision-based guidance system, not the quadcopter propulsion (which indeed would be absurd on Mars).

http://www.esa.int/Our_Activit... [esa.int]

Re:This is not going to work. (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about 4 months ago | (#47403783)

It also fails to mention when they are installing GPS around Mars.

Re:This is not going to work. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47403675)

This is what I came to read. Some dumb American who sees "Mars" or "space" and assumes NASA.

Re:This is not going to work. (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about 4 months ago | (#47403781)

The summary mentions NASA, And I'm not an American. I didn't bother to read well because the details of something that doesn't exist don't matter.

Re:This is not going to work. (0)

faffod (905810) | about 4 months ago | (#47403839)

It does mentione NASA. The first line of the summary:

Taking a page from NASA's rocket powered landing craft from it most recent Mars landing mission, the European Space Agency is ...

So your excuse is that you didn't read the article, and you didn't read the first sentence of the summary to completion. You can't claim that you read the headline, because that doesn't mention NASA.

Re:This is not going to work. (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about 4 months ago | (#47403801)

He's right though, that thing will drop like a rock. ...aaand apparently it actually is an official release: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activit... [esa.int]

Re:This is not going to work. (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 4 months ago | (#47405445)

Someone asserting NASA's calculations on air worthiness being wrong...

It's those commie Global Copterists trying to push their socialist sodomy agenda on us hard-working patriotic air creators!

Horrible Article (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47403667)

Here is the official press release [esa.int] , which states the real goal of the project:

Starting from scratch for the eight-month project, the Dropter team was challenged to produce vision-based navigation and hazard detection and avoidance for the dropship.

The quadcopter was just a COTS stand-in for testing their software.

Re:Horrible Article (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 4 months ago | (#47404325)

Which was just changes the problem to a different domain... diverting the probe is going to be a stone cold bitch. By the time you're a couple of hundred feet up, you're only a few seconds from landing and it'll take quite a bit of energy to divert any significant distance. (Energy == weight.) And that's without pondering how amazing the optics and processing system will have to be.

Interesting work to be sure, but applying it in practice will be even more so.

Re: This is not going to work. (1)

tsqr (808554) | about 4 months ago | (#47403785)

Yes, it isgoing to work, actually. A proof of concept vehicle has already been flown in a chamber at Martian atmospheric pressure.

Re: This is not going to work. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47405501)

And at Martian gravity? Or at a pressure that compensates for the difference in gravity?

Re: This is not going to work. (1)

pla (258480) | about 4 months ago | (#47406361)

And at Martian gravity? Or at a pressure that compensates for the difference in gravity?

Mars has lower gravity than the Earth. If it works at Mars pressure and Earth Gravity, it will work better actually on Mars.

That said, I''d say the GP's assertion requires a cite - As far as I know, virtually no "Aero"dynamics-based means of propulsion or lift works on Mars. Any viable copter on Mars would require blades the size of a football field, which leads to a not inconsiderable problem of how you mount more than one of them to a probe the size of a small car.

Re:This is not going to work. (3, Informative)

Warshadow (132109) | about 4 months ago | (#47404199)

Some friends of mine did exactly this as a research project last year.They did some testing at NASA Langley using some of their low pressure testing facilities.

It should be possible in a few years for sure and it may even be possible now. That being said, it's quite possibly the least efficient way to do anything anywhere, especially so on Mars. The rotor blades have to be enormous in order to generate enough lift. They also made some assumptions about materials used that aren't realistic right now, 5 years from now, probably, but not right now.

Re:This is not going to work. (1)

bondsbw (888959) | about 4 months ago | (#47405097)

Oblig xkcd [xkcd.com] .

Re:This is not going to work. (1)

MildlyTangy (3408549) | about 4 months ago | (#47405243)

Mars has an atmosphere. Barely - atmospheric pressure is 0.006 earth-atmospheres. Maybe 0.01 if the weather is right and at a low enough point. You'd get bugger-all lift from a 'copter, quad or otherwise. Even in the nice one-third G, that thing isn't flying. It's hard enough getting something down by parachute - those rovers have to be built to take a nasty impact, because even with a huge parachute and low gravity they still hit the ground hard.

The R&D is towards the guidance and landing system, the copter part is just a platform.

When Curiosity landed, Skycrake used rocket engines, theres no reason why rockets couldnt be used instead of rotors.

YALC (0)

djupedal (584558) | about 4 months ago | (#47403479)

yet another landing concept?

How many of these does the public have to fund before NASA admits to simply trying to stay employed, for cripe's sake.

Re:YALC (1)

Nutria (679911) | about 4 months ago | (#47403551)

How many of these does the public have to fund before NASA admits

For how many years do you have to go back to school before you understand that ESA != NASA?

Re:YALC (1)

TWX (665546) | about 4 months ago | (#47403569)

First, this isn't NASA or the United States at all. Second, there well could be applications for differing landing systems for different applications, both for from-orbit landings and for terrain-to-terrain hops to traverse large amounts of territory or to bypass obstructions or other impassable terrain.

If the ESA will pay for it then I don't really care that much. The idea sounds a little silly given the atmospheric density on Mars, but if they can make something work or can learn and use this knowledge to work on something else that works well, all the better.

Re:YALC (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47403577)

I guess you missed the part about it being the ESA, not NASA.

Why a separate rover? (1)

Irate Engineer (2814313) | about 4 months ago | (#47403487)

Why not just leave the quadcopter attached to the rover as a single unit? You then would have a rover capable of short hops to move from point to point, over obstacles, etc.. It might also allow a stuck rover to move out of a sandtrap. It could also blow dust off solar arrays. It would provide a lot more flexibility in motion.

The sky-crane maneuver was designed before the quadcopter design paradigm existed and they were simply trying to safely land a large and heavy science rover. The lower density of the atmosphere and the weight of the rover would need to be considered while developing a new design using a quadcopter approach, but I don't see why a sky-crane would be necessary or even desired.

Re:Why a separate rover? (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | about 4 months ago | (#47404711)

The quadrotor design paradigm exists because small electric motors are cheap, and the power-to-weight ratios available in the couple pound range are absurd to the point that good engineering is unnecessary. In the couple thousand pound range, power becomes far more scarce, and the small, inefficient rotors just won't cut it. They have lowered the minimum barrier to entry for hobbyists, and research projects that need a simple airborne platform. They don't work well for full scale aircraft.

Those rotor blades have no air to move! (1)

FunkyRider (1128099) | about 4 months ago | (#47403515)

Title says it all. I don't know what kind of dumbass would come up with this idea, but on Mars, your rotor blade would need to be spinning at like 150000 RPM to barely generate any lift.

Re:Those rotor blades have no air to move! (1)

Irate Engineer (2814313) | about 4 months ago | (#47403973)

Not dumbassed, but yes, the blade size, shape, and design speed would need to be redesigned for the reduced air density. Challenging, but perhaps not impossible. And there are many examples of turbomachinery that spin happily at hundreds of thousands of RPM.

If it could be done without a major size or mass penalty, this could permit not just a soft landing, but the potential of a hopping or a flying rover.

Re:Those rotor blades have no air to move! (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | about 4 months ago | (#47404759)

You're going the complete wrong direction. If you want to have any change in hell of actually having enough power to get this thing in the air, you need to get your blade loading down, and that means a huge rotor. Huge rotors mean you need to be running low RPMs to keep it subsonic at the tip, and remember that the colder and higher molecular weight atmosphere means the speed of sound is going to be ~30% lower.

I Wonder.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47403529)

I hope someone checked that the martian atmosphere has enough density to support the propeller lift...

Re:I Wonder.. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47403545)

Ah, yeah.. Others have checked.. (whew)

Re:I Wonder.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47403549)

I hope someone checked that the martian atmosphere has enough density to support the propeller lift...

The Council of Elders most certainly did, which is why they sent an agent to the blue world in order to make the suggestion in the first place. K'Breel is rubbing his gelsacs in glee with anticipation of the first actual invasion attempt that employs this technology.

GPS on Mars? (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 4 months ago | (#47403531)

I hope they plan on deploying a dozen or more GPS satellites to Mars before they try and land this thing.

Re:GPS on Mars? (1)

TWX (665546) | about 4 months ago | (#47403581)

I think they should name them something besides GPS. Maybe Ares Positioning System so that it could just be called Ares.

Though such a Roman->Greek naming scheme might not work so well for Venus...

Re:GPS on Mars? (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 4 months ago | (#47403659)

What's wrong with Aphrodite?

Re:GPS on Mars? (1)

TWX (665546) | about 4 months ago | (#47403817)

Cumbersome. Zeus is short. Ares is short. Cronus is short. Even Posiedon is only three syllables, but Aphrodite at four is getting a little long and doesn't roll off the tongue the same way.

Re:GPS on Mars? (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 4 months ago | (#47403915)

Galileo is four syllables.
It's a satellite navigation system currently being deployed.

Re:GPS on Mars? (1)

PvtVoid (1252388) | about 4 months ago | (#47404421)

Galileo is four syllables.

Yeah, but Galileo was a dude. Dudes get extra syllables.

Re:GPS on Mars? (1)

TWX (665546) | about 4 months ago | (#47406725)

Yes, and I don't think that its choice of name or acronym is terribly good either.

Re:GPS on Mars? (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 4 months ago | (#47405169)

What's wrong with Aphrodite?

Doesn't work well with Apples.

Air density (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47403539)

Given how thin the atmosphere is on Mars the rotors will have to be huge, and spinning at close to Mach 1. cute idea but the ESA might want to stick with proven concepts, like rockets and air bags. Not as original but when your taking about something that costs ~1 billion (pick a currency) you want something that isn't going to make a hole in the ground out of all your hard work.

Kilrathi stole yer name (2)

danomatika (1977210) | about 4 months ago | (#47403541)

StarTiger's Dropter

What the hell kind of name is that? Is this Wing Commander?

Re:Kilrathi stole yer name (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47403553)

somebody was inspired by STDs

Atmospheric Denisty? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47403559)

With the illustrious qualification of having played Kerbal Space Program, it is my considered opinion that the atmosphere on mars is insufficiently dense for a practical application of quadcopters.

Re:Atmospheric Denisty? (1)

cheesybagel (670288) | about 4 months ago | (#47404577)

Yes. Quadcopters are overrated. I remember reading a lot about proposals to make aircraft that can fly in the Martian atmosphere and nearly invariably they had huge wings and lightweight structures. The atmosphere is really low density.

Seven Minutes of Terror (3, Interesting)

GPS Pilot (3683) | about 4 months ago | (#47403615)

If you've never watched "Seven Minutes of Terror," which explains the crazy but successful scheme to lower the Curiousity rover onto Mars, do yourself a favor and go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... [youtube.com]

It's the best video the U.S. Government has ever produced.

Re:Seven Minutes of Terror (2)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 4 months ago | (#47404017)

Go watch the last minute of Apollo 11 if you want "terror". Aldrin's heart rate went through the roof while Armstrong's kept plodding along normally, which just goes to show it's more scary being the passenger than the driver.

Re:Seven Minutes of Terror (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47405147)

it's more scary being the passenger than the driver.

Any one that has been in a car on narrow winding mountain roads knows all about that!

Seven Minutes of Terror (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47405433)

Personally I thought that the 911 drama was the best video the U.S. came up with.
So convincingly for so many people...

Re:Seven Minutes of Terror (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 4 months ago | (#47405455)

An audit by the IRS?

Why can't it BE the rover? (2)

AndyKron (937105) | about 4 months ago | (#47403771)

Why can't it BE the rover?

Re:Why can't it BE the rover? (1)

MildlyTangy (3408549) | about 4 months ago | (#47405255)

Why can't it BE the rover?

Fuel.

The final system would use rocket engines. Mars's atmosphere is only 1% of Earth's, propellers wouldnt work so well.

Possible, yes, but feasible? (2)

gman003 (1693318) | about 4 months ago | (#47403887)

Helicopters work well on Earth for several reasons - first, our oxygen-bearing atmosphere means we don't have to carry our own oxidizer, just fuel, which makes it far more mass-efficient. Then our thick atmosphere means you get a lot more lift for a given amount of airspeed.

I have no doubt that you could get a rotorcraft to work on Mars. It's a question of whether it will work better than alternatives - such as the rockets used by Curiosity. But in essence this will have to be a rocket-powered rotorcraft as well - either rocket-like gas generators, or electric motors would be needed to work in the oxygenless environment, and I don't see electric being feasible in this situation. It then comes down to "is it more efficient to use the fuel+oxidizer to turn a rotor at supersonic speeds, or use it as a rocket?"

I'm no rocket scientist, but it seems to me that the simple extra mass of the rotor is a big strike against it being a good alternative to rockets, never mind the thinner atmosphere.

Re:Possible, yes, but feasible? (1)

jfdavis668 (1414919) | about 4 months ago | (#47404673)

It would be solar powered, of course.

Well done everybody (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47404391)

... on completely missing the point. This project is about testing autonomous visual landing site selection and guidance, NOT proposing that quadcopters can fly on Mars. To be fair, the linked article isn't especially clear on that point either.

Re:Well done everybody (1)

stoploss (2842505) | about 4 months ago | (#47404539)

... on completely missing the point. This project is about testing autonomous visual landing site selection and guidance, NOT proposing that quadcopters can fly on Mars. To be fair, the linked article isn't especially clear on that point either.

To be fair, the ESA's own site [esa.int] insinuates that this project is a quadcopter for Mars.

"The dramatic conclusion to ESA’s latest StarTiger project: a ‘dropship’ quadcopter steers itself to lower a rover gently onto a safe patch of the rocky martian surface."

Outsource this to Bezos... (1)

jpellino (202698) | about 4 months ago | (#47404453)

tell him he can have a 50 year exclusive getting DVDs and geegaws to martian settlers.

air density (1)

RichMan (8097) | about 4 months ago | (#47404505)

Martian air density says any sort of copter is not going to fly.

The highest atmospheric density on Mars is equal to that found 35 km (22 mi) above the Earth's surface.

Re:air density (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 4 months ago | (#47405201)

Not any current conventional one just like conventional fixed wing aircraft can't get up to the same altitude as the U2. I think it's more impractical than impossible, although generating that much lift from huge rotors may require materials that we don't or may never have.
Besides, this copter was just a platform for a vision system instead of a serious lander design.

0.74% atmospheric pressure and trace oxygen levels (1)

George_Ou (849225) | about 4 months ago | (#47405483)

To properly test a prototype, you would need to fly a prototype helicopter (probably with very large rotor and very powerful turbine) to 33,000 meters altitude on Earth to test equivalent atmospheric pressures. The current altitude record for helicopters is only 12,442 meters.

There's another major problem posed by Mars. 96% of the atmosphere is comprised of CO2 and there is only trace amounts of oxygen. That means not only would you have to carry fuel, but you would need to carry your own oxidizer as well which adds a lot of weight.

Re:0.74% atmospheric pressure and trace oxygen lev (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47406015)

LOL.

No one climbs Mount Everest to test high altitude equipment, they use a hypobaric chamber.

As for fuel - batteries would likely be enough for a quick landing.

Still, it's hard to believe they can make it work - my guess is that it will have to have big propellers spinning real fast, to do anything in that atmosphere, even if they are aiming at a low point with most air pressure like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hellas_Planitia (~0.01% earth atmosphere)

If all you have is a hammer... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47405615)

Everything quadcopter now? Still, even if the atmosphere is thick enough to fly a quadcopter (I'm not so sure about that), last time I checked, GPS wasn't deployed around Mars.

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