Taking in the view. Note the mini-helicopter.
Courtesy: Daniel Raymer


While the world waits for the unleashing of a mini-helicopter by the recently landed Perseverance Mars rover, a team of aeronautical and space experts are already blueprinting a piloted aircraft. The vehicle is tailor-made for exploration, research, cargo transport, photography, and to link multiple settlements on the Red Planet.

Credit: NASA

“If national governments and certain billionaires have their way, humans will reach Mars sometime in this century and set up permanent bases. Eventually they’ll need a way to get around,” explains Daniel Raymer, president of the design and consulting company, Conceptual Research Corporation in Playa del Rey, California.

Details of the Mars craft are outlined by Raymer and his co-authors in a paper for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

Credit: Daniel Raymer, et al. (AIAA-2021-1187)

Crew of two

A two-man vehicle is foreseen developed on the lines similar to the capabilities of the classic “Jeep” of WWII fame. Namely, the aircraft can support a crew of two plus cargo to a total of 500 pounds, carried at least 260 nautical miles.

Flying the vehicle doesn’t require an off-Earth pilot’s license; the flight control system will be capable of fully autonomous operation. Vertical takeoff and landing of the craft is required, “due to the deplorable lack of paved runways on Mars,” the design team reports.

Credit: Daniel Raymer, et al. (AIAA-2021-1187)

When desired, the two-person flyers could “take the stick” and fly the craft using a simplified video game or touchpad controller. Commands can be entered, such as take-off, cruise (direction or destination), climb, descend, turn, altitude hold, or land at a designated spot.

The cabin is sized for a two-person crew and would offer a good field of view, to pick safe landing sites and allow for eye-catching photography.

Credit: Daniel Raymer, et al. (AIAA-2021-1187)

Do the math

“The air is a lot less dense on Mars. But the gravity is a lot lower,” Raymer points out.” Do the math…it turns out that if you can fly on Earth at about 100,000 feet, then you can fly on Mars.” That assumes, of course, that you can get there first, and that you have a motor that can run in an atmosphere with negligible oxygen, bitter cold, and dust storms, he adds.

While there are various modes of propulsion feasible for flight on Mars, it was assumed that electric motors with propellers would be used for wing-borne forward flight. Vertical rockets would be used for takeoff and landing. Use of horizontally installed rockets to assist in acceleration to forward flight speed may be attractive, the design team suggests.

As studied by Raymer and his associates, the Mars airplane design is a viable, “existence proof” concept. Consider the proposed vehicle as “food for thought,” not the final answer. Further work on the idea, they write, could likely lead to an even better design.

Advanced but feasible technologies

As it now stands, the present aircraft design for Mars resulted from an international effort with participants in Brazil, Germany, India, Israel, and Spain, facilitated by Internet meeting software.

Credit: Elon Musk/SpaceX

The overall operational concept for the Mars plane starts with the assumption of a permanent human presence on Mars, with one or more bases on Mars, readily-available electrical energy (solar or nuclear), and large pressurized buildings. “Permanent residents of Mars will need a “Jeep-like” mobility capability for getting around and for delivering cargo where needed,” the study team explains.

The design study results suggest that such a crew-carrying Mars airplane is possible, with the application of advanced but feasible technologies in the post-2030 time frame.

As noted in the AIAA paper, Robert Zubrin, head of the Mars Society, has offered the possibility of relaxing an onerous design requirement for the airplane. “I agree that the lack of paved runways on Mars is deplorable. I will see what I can do about correcting it.”

To read the AIAA paper – “The Raymer Manned Mars Airplane: A Conceptual Design and Feasibility Study” — go to:


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