Mars Drones Complete Testing on Active Volcano
Skypersonic, an industrial drone company selected to provide its pipeline of vehicles to NASA’s simulated Mars mission, successfully finished testing its drone software on Mount Etna, Europe’s most active volcano.
During the 15-day test, Skypersonic tested its remote-operated drone Skycopter, using a novel monitoring system that does not rely on GPS. An operating team in Houston, Texas piloted the drone on the slopes of Mount Etna, testing its long-range capabilities.
“This was a grueling test that we passed with flying colors,” said Skypersonic CEO Giuseppe Santangelo. “We look forward to the ultimate test – on Earth, at least – when our technology will be used during NASA’s upcoming yearlong simulated Mars mission.”
Skypersonic’s NASA contract was announced in 2021, a five-year scheme to provide its products to NASA’s simulated Mars mission later this year; an analog mission designed to simulate off-planet life to identify and troubleshoot potential problems.
“During the simulated Mars mission, four crew members living and working in a 1,700-square-foot module on Earth, called Mars Dune Alpha, will carry out a series of missions – including remotely guided exploration and collection of specimens from rugged terrain elsewhere on Earth, up to thousands of miles away,” said Santangelo. “We are confident of also passing this test.”
The Skycopter is fitted with a tiltable video camera designed to work in extreme conditions, encased in an ultra-light cage to minimize damage. It is also fitted with a 360° LED lighting system to allow its use even in complete darkness. Sensors to detect gasses and radiation can also be added.
Skycopter has also developed its own bespoke location monitoring and piloting system, capable of identifying the drone location without GPS and offering operators first-person-view of what the drone can see.
Mount Etna is a popular site for testing space exploration vehicles. In July, researchers from the German Aerospace Center deployed lunar robots on its rocky terrain to test capabilities in collecting and analyzing soil samples. The location is favored by researchers for its dusty conditions and topography pitted with numerous craters and dips.