The goal of the Mars Aircraft team is to advance two objectives; one educational and the other technical. Both are focused on making flight on Mars a possibility.
The educational goals are to provide experience to undergraduate students in “NASA like” projects to foster interest in aerospace careers. Mars aircraft development provides a multi-disciplinary systems engineering project grounded in aerospace engineering while helping NASA to accomplish it’s scientific objectives. The MARS experience includes design, development, testing, flight and data analysis of a complex aerospace prototype experiment to gain knowledge of multidisciplinary teamwork and systems engineering and a challenging, state-of-the-art experience including multiple contacts with NASA and industry researchers. Since large scale projects typically involve multiple companies and/or multiple locations requiring distance collaboration, this project simulates that environment by having students at OSU work with students at the University of Kentucky (where the BIG BLUE program originally started) to complete the project. Each campus has ownership of (hence, responsibility for) portions of the project design and operation. Success requires teamwork across hundreds of miles.
Before flight on Mars can happen, many technical hurdles need to be overcome, not the least of which include the development of a vehicle that can be packed into a small volume for reentry into the Martian atmosphere and then deploy wings for flight in the low density atmosphere. Since the development and technical verification of an actual flight system would require millions of dollars and thousands of engineer-hours of effort, we are focusing on verifying one specific technology: inflatable wings. The goal is the development and testing of inflatable wing technology to a TRL of 6/7 which is verification in a relevant operational environment. This will be accomplished by testing the final design in the only environment on Earth that simulates the correct conditions: 100,000 feet above sea level.
The culmination of the development and test program is the flight test of inflatable wings deployed on a Mars aircraft design under relevant operating conditions; in this case, high altitude deployment on a weather balloon.