Local News

N.C. State Students Plan Simulated Trip To Mars

Posted February 8, 2002 11:29 a.m. EST

— N.C. State students

have come up with several designs for Mars exploration in the past couple of years. Now, aerospace engineering students work with computers to design a mission to take new exploration ideas to Mars.

Graduate student Nhan Lam said using computers minimizes costs.

"By simulating a spacecraft mission to Mars instead of experimenting with different parts and components, we're going to simulate on a computer to reduce the cost," he said.

N.C. State students have been designing prototype spacecrafts for about 12 years in conjunction with several


research centers.

Team leader David Minton explained the project will design not only a spacecraft, but an aircraft as well to survey climatic conditions and topography.

"We're looking at balloons and flyers, like airplanes, gliders, those sorts of things," he said.

NASA has been working with remote-controlled airplane designs, which can fly low and cover considerable distance. One N.C. State design is a remote-controlled glider.

Dr. Fred DeJarnette heads the university's Aerospace Engineering Department. He said after being dropped from the spacecraft, the glider's wings would unfold and it would head toward the surface.

"It would pull out of its descent and fly above the surface of Mars but yet close enough to get video from a tiny video camera, which is located on the bottom of the glider," he said.

The engineering team is also working on a blimp-type airship that would float in the Martian atmosphere. The spacecraft carrying the balloon or glider would be small.

"It would probably have a maximum diameter of about four feet because the Mars aircraft as well as the Mars airship would be relatively small," DeJarnette said.

The students' ideas will go to NASA's Langley Research Center for possible use in future Mars exploration.