What for many is still science fiction, could soon become reality: preparations for the first manned flight to Mars are in full swing. But this is just one of the many fascinating projects that are in the pipeline of the world's aerospace industry. In my post, read how flying robots are changing our everyday lives and how 3-D printing is revolutionising aircraft construction.
It took seven months for the ExoMars mission to reach its destination, planet Mars. The Russian-European space project aims on providing new insights and pictures of the red planet. Following the decoupling of Mars lander Schiparelli from the mother ship Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), the Mars lander was supposed to explore the planet's surface. This has not happened so far since it was not possible to contact Schiparelli to date. The TGO remains in orbit and will explore the Mars atmosphere. This is expected to happen in 2018 since TGO will need until then to justify itself into the necessary orbit.
The Valles Marineris Explorer (VaMEx) project sponsored by the German Aerospace Centre will also be taking a closer look at Mars in the near future. VaMEx is tasked with exploring one of the most promising spots on the red planet, the Valles Marineris. The Valles Marineris is a vast system of rift valleys on Mars. At the bottom of the ravines, the ambient pressure is high enough to make the existence of liquid water possible. The rugged terrain and the extremely deep canyons represent a challenge for research equipment, which is why VaMEx will be sending out a swarm of ground and air robots to Mars' equator. This will explore the nature of the Valles Marineris at different locations. The combined data might provide new insights into our neighbouring planet.
NASA is also gearing up to explore Mars, with a manned mission to Mars already in the rough planning stages. NASA has issued a tender for companies to design homes for astronauts to dwell in on Mars after they arrive sometime after 2030. NASA is investing $65 million in the development of these residential modules by 2017.
Mars One is a private foundation that wants to send the first group of tourists into outer space within ten years. The selection of potential pioneers to settle Mars has already begun. Tens of thousands of people applied and 100 have been shortlisted. The private SpaceX company also wants to take people to Mars by the year 2025.
So far, only certain components of aircraft are being produced using 3-D printing processes. Aircraft manufacturer Airbus, meanwhile, has presented its new aircraft Thor to show that complete fabrication of aircraft with a 3-D printer is possible. The unmanned aircraft is 3.5 m long and has a wingspan of 3.7 m. Thor has been made of a special plastic mixture which is first pulverized and then shaped. So far, the plane has been flown using remote control, but subsequent versions of Thor will be able to fly autonomously.
Airbus has already announced that 10% of its components for large passenger aircraft will soon be made using 3-D printing. The process has the potential to revolutionise the entire industry according to at least half of the industry experts surveyed at the ILA Aerospace Trade Show in Berlin by digital association BITKOM.
The 3-D technology is being further developed with the use of bionics. For example, nature has provided the model for the design of partition walls. In the ARTS blog post, you can learn more about bionics and its potential applications.
400,000 drones are already out and about in Germany according to the industry association BUVUS. And there are more in the air every day: in Hamburg, the number of flight licenses has increased 40-fold in the past three years. Once drones can be used as a means of transport, their number is certain to rise. There have already been initial field trials, but regular transport is not yet legally possible. That could soon change, because the German government is working hard on a draft law to clarify rights to air space. Already in 2020, parcel service could be on demand, allowing mail and packages to be delivered to remote locates or even have drugs delivered to accident sites high up in the mountains, for example.
Aircraft manufacturer Airbus has its eye on another application for drones other than the transport of goods: it's already testing air taxis in Silicon Valley. These should help to relieve traffic congestion in mega-cities with more than 10 million people
Google founder Larry Page has similar ideas and is investing millions in flying cars. So far, Page has not yet decided between the two possible technologies and has funded two start-ups that specialise in flying cars. Zee.Aero develops vehicles with hydrofoils, while Pal-V is basing their cars on transport drone technology.
Three technological advances are driving further research on flying cars: the development of modern IT systems for conventional cars on the road, the progress in flying robots in unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as the ever more efficient electric motor.
What developments do you see as a trend-setting? What technologies will be adapted by the aerospace industry? I look forward to sharing our experiences.