They will Fly on Mars Completely without Moving Parts

The idea is that floating plates will explore the red planet. Nanocardboard Flyers weigh just one-third of a milligram, making it possible to lift without an engine.

Nasa intends to send its new rover Perseverance to Mars at the end of the summer. The vehicle will carry the helicopter that has been developed to fly in the atmosphere of the planet. But now the University of Pennsylvania presents an alternative solution for exploring Mars from the air.

Penn Engineering‘s concept has been renamed Nanocardboard Flyers. The flying sheets lack completely moving parts and are instead driven by air circulating through the hollow structure of the material. The so-called “nano-carton” is actually a hollow plate whose walls are made of alumina, which are only a few nanometers thick. The plate has been folded which gives an extreme stiffness, and forms the important channels in the construction.

As the sun heats one side of the vehicle, a temperature difference arises which, through the phenomenon of thermal creep, produces a pull through the channels. And when a vehicle has roughly the same weight as a fruit fly, one-third of a milligram, it doesn’t take much to lift it.

The research team has been developing the material since 2017 and in collaboration with the Singh-Center for Nanotechnology, the aim has been to set a new record in terms of weight in relation to stiffness.

According to Penn Engineering estimates, the vehicles will be able to fly in the atmosphere of Mars. In a pressure chamber with a lower pressure than on the ground, the research team has started to test flying with cargo – this in the form of a small silicone ring located on top of the plate.

But even under perfect circumstances, the Nanocardboard Flyers will be able to carry sensors weighing a few milligrams at most. Now the team is collaborating with other researchers to reduce the size of sensors that can detect traces of water and methane.

And of course, nanocardboard flyers could mean many more “eyes” to a far smaller mass. For NASA’s new Mars helicopter, more than a million of the flying cardboard pieces weigh.

Another task could be to collect small amounts of sand by simply letting them past the surface. Penn thinks that their system could possibly be used on Pluto and the Neptune moon Triton. The researchers have presented their work in Advanced Materials.

 

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The idea is that floating plates will explore the red planet. Nanocardboard Flyers weigh just one-third of a milligram, making it possible to lift without an engine.

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