NASA Autonomous Aircraft Designed for High-Altitude Extended Flight

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February 21, 2018 | Originally published by Date Line: February 21 on

The autonomous airplane can be folded in a confined volume, transported, and deployed in terrestrial or extraterrestrial venues.

NASA Langley Research Center researchers have developed an airplane capable of being stowed in a confined volume and deployed in a high-altitude environment for extended-duration flight operations in a low-density atmosphere.

Engineers, scientists, and end users can take advantage of this innovation that provides previously unattainable high-altitude flight operations. The airplane is delivered to a specified altitude folded in a container or rocket. Once released, the plane unfolds and executes a pull-up maneuver to stabilize altitude. In addition, the current suite of onboard scientific instrumentation includes magnetometers, a mass spectrometer, and variable-use cameras. NASA is seeking market insights on commercialization of the new airplane design, and welcomes interest from potential producers, users, and licensees.

The airplane can be folded in a confined volume, transported by a carrier vehicle, and deployed after delivery to terrestrial or extraterrestrial venues. The innovation includes the stowaway capsule, and the aerodynamic design of the airplane enables flight in low-density atmospheres such as on Mars. The airplane configuration includes the airfoil sections, folding method, and the outer mold line. The plane has the capability to maneuver in the Martian atmosphere at an atmospheric pressure comparable to 100,000 feet above sea level on Earth.