Monday, November 20, 2006

Mars Flyer gets wind tunnel test

One of the most exciting prospects for exploration of Mars is the idea of sending an automated aircraft, which could clearly cover great distances and return unprecedented detail of the surface. The newest design to enter the testing stage rejoices in the wonderful name of the Mars Advanced Technology Airplane for Deployment, Operations, and Recovery, or to shorten it to its acronym, MATADOR. Not surprisingly given that brain bender of a name, this is a military funded project; don't the military just love their acronyms? However, don't be disappointed to learn that it is apparently unarmed, unless of course they know something we don't and we're preparing to declare war on Mars. The project is run out of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, a name synonymous with murky stories of crashed UFOs and stored alien bodies. Tests of the winged design were conduced recently in a vertical wind tunnel. The plane has a folded wing design, which means it would deploy with the wings folded, and then unfurl them deep in the atmosphere. There are plans to do more testing in the future, including the possibility of sending the plane aloft with a balloon. You can find more at the AFRL (there's another acronyn) web site.