A preliminary feasibility study for an airship operating on the red planet.
Various space orbiters, landers and rovers have given us precious data on the Red Planet. Orbiters allow global analyses and landers have an increased capacity of detailed observations but their accuracy is at the cost of restriction to the small area where they land. Ingenuity helicopter has shown us that we can take profit of another dimension by hovering just above ground at slow speed, since the Martian atmosphere, though tenuous, has proved dense enough to allow lift and propulsion.
An airship would allow for observations similar to those of a helicopter but over longer missions since it could float above the ground without consuming energy. Therefore, whereas a helicopter can be used as a scout, an airship could be used for autonomous full missions. Its ability to observe cliff walls over long distances would be unmatchable.
The study provides a preliminary design for such an airship. It contains design drivers, trade-offs and provides a preliminary sizing of the main subsystems. The Design Reference Mission is to explore parts of Valles Marineris. This region shows interesting geomorphological context. Additionally, the depth of the canyon yields a higher air pressure which means heavier surrounding air.
The reference scientific goal would be to perform mineral mapping of the cliff walls using a hyperspectral sensor of a maximum mass of 3 kg. Adding the navigation, command and data transmission systems, the airship has been designed for a total payload mass of 10 kg.
Roméo Tonasso, EPFL, Student in Mechanical Engineering, Master semester 4 / Laurène Delsupexhe, Consultant engineer for ArianeGroup / Alice Barthe, Space engineer / Julie Hartz, Astrobiologist. Laurène, Alice and Julie are members of the WoMars Team.
Mentors: Claude Nicollier, Pierre Brisson (Mars Society Switzerland).