US space agency NASA will finance, for a year, a project to build a swarm of flying robots to send to the Red Planet. Compared to a single rover, the benefits are undeniable.
Curiosity has had its day. And the whole of humanity can thank him for all that he brought to us as knowledge on the planet Mars. But the rover has also shown its limits: less than 20 kilometers traveled in five years on the surface of the Red Planet! The next stage of Martian exploration could therefore see bigger and above all, higher, going through the air.
This is the ambition of a team of American and Japanese engineers, who are working on a project with the goal of building a squadron of mini-drones inspired by bees, the Marsbees. As part of its Innovative Advanced Concepts program, which recognizes innovative projects every year, NASA has just given them one year of funding to develop their idea.
In the minds of their designers, the Marsbees would be miniature flying robots deployed in a swarm, and able to explore Mars autonomously. A typical rover would serve as a command station, recharging their battery and transmitting data collected by the drones to Earth.
The Marsbees would each be the size of a normal bee with large oversized cicada wings, given the very tenuous Martian atmosphere, which greatly reduces lift relative to the Earth.
Each Marsbee would be able to explore a Martian area on its own but, if needed, receive help from its sisters or be replaced by one of them if there is a problem. The project is only in the planning stage at the moment, as engineers are still struggling with the design of the wings and the power needed to fly the Marsbees on the Red Planet.
Currently, tests are in progress in a confined chamber reproducing the Martian atmosphere.