Ingenuity Mars rotorcraft – a forerunner of things to come.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter has shown the “Wright stuff” on the Red Planet. Multiple sorties of the rotorcraft have been so successful that the device is now moving into an operational role supporting the Perseverance rover’s scientific sleuthing ahead.

The future use of airborne tools on Mars is also being tested in the Holuhraun, Iceland lava flow field. This activity is under the wing of the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL) programs.

LPL’s Christopher Hamilton and colleagues have been investigating a next-generation Mars exploration concept, dubbed RAVEN, short for Rover–Aerial Vehicle Exploration Networks. The effort draws upon recent developments in drone technology.

Christopher Hamilton launches a drone during flight tests in the Holuhraun, Iceland lava flow field.
Credit: University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory

For example, there’s the RAVEN Claw a prototype Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) developed by Honeybee Robotics. It is a sample acquisition device to test new methods of sample characterization and collection within Mars analog environments, like the Highlands of Iceland.

Credit: University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory/Honeybee Robotics

Maximize scientific output

A $3.1 million NASA grant is geared to develop a new concept combining rovers and unmanned aerial systems to explore areas of the red planet that have been previously inaccessible.

Future human Mars expeditions may use aerial vehicles to enlarge their exploration zones.
Credit: NASA/JPL

According to Hamilton, RAVEN adds an entirely new approach to NASA’s paradigm of planetary exploration, one that traditionally has centered around four steps – flyby, orbit, land and rove.

“With RAVEN, we’re adding ‘fly’ to that list,” Hamilton says. “The concept is geared toward building new technology for two robots to work together on an extraterrestrial body. We are going to look at how a rover and a drone can work together to maximize the scientific output of such a mission.”

For more information on RAVEN, go to:

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