StratoSail & Altair: Mars Robot Balloons
StratoSail, a NASA-funded robotic balloon with a wing, and Altair, a Welsh robotic balloon, may hold the key to future Mars exploration.
The Aberystwyth Lighter Than Air Intelligent Robot (Altair - see working prototype below) is under development at the University of Wales. It consists of a helium-filled balloon and a gondola with servos and electric motors for the two propellers that steer the craft, a microprocessor with 64K of memory, battery and infrared and ultrasonic navigation system. It is designed to fly itself, and to work independently as a platform for cameras and sensors.
The StratoSail is a balloon with a wing; researchers hope to use a wing design to provide stability and power to the craft. Balloons have been previously deployed on Venus. However, it was difficult to stabilize in strong wind currents.
"The ability of long-duration guided planetary balloons to alter their flight path in the atmosphere, to deploy surface probes, and to carry out detailed reconnaissance make them a very powerful tool for future Mars exploration," said Dr Alexey Pankine, project scientist at the Global Aerospace Corporation.
The craft is still in the first phase of development.
Science fiction fans may remember the recent (2000) Larry Niven novel Saturn's Race in which he presents the beetle - a reinforced gondola used for exploration and travel.
See also Welsh Altair Robot Balloon Targets Mars and Robot Balloons Could Explore Mars.
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