NASA SBIR 2003 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER:03-S5.02-9208 (For NASA Use Only - Chron: 033797)
SUBTOPIC TITLE:Mars In-Situ Robotics Technology
PROPOSAL TITLE:Mars Solar Balloon Lander

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN (Firm Name, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Pioneer Astronautics
11111 W. 8th Ave., Unit A
Lakewood ,CO 80215 - 5516
(303) 980 - 0890

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Robert   Zubrin
11111 W. 8th Ave., Unit A
Lakewood ,CO  80215 -5516
(303) 980 - 0890
U.S. Citizen or Legal Resident: Yes

The Mars Solar Balloon Lander (MSBL) is a novel concept which utilizes the capability of solar-heated hot air balloons to perform soft landings of scientific payloads on the Martian surface. In the MSBL concept, a dark colored or metalized zero pressure balloon is inflated with Martian atmospheric CO2 during initial descent suspended by a parachute.. As a result of the favorable optical qualities of the balloon?s coloration, the gas inside the balloon is warmed to temperatures considerably exceeding the surrounding ambient atmosphere, thereby providing buoyancy. The MSBL can thus achieve stable level flight during daylight, or can be used to deliver payloads to the ground with arbitrarily low rates of descent. After the payload is landed, the balloon can be released for a free flight remote sensing mission, or can be retained as a tethered asset by the lander serving many useful functions, including local aerial imaging, communications, or lander towing. Key technical challenges to the MSBL concern dealing with horizontal velocity during terminal descent. However the MSBL is competitive on a mass basis when compared to alternative landing technologies such as airbags, and offers many novel additional capabilities for combined surface and aerial operations.

The primary purpose of the MBSL is to provide a low cost, low mass means of soft landing payloads on Mars. The system can also be used to tow the lander at considerable speed across the Martian landscape, simultaneously providing aerial context imaging and other remote sensing data from its own gondola carried aloft. The solar balloon can increase its lift and fly the payload across chasms, as necessary. Such a mission could travel long distances across the Martian pole in summer, producing a science bonanza as it images and samples the surface across a wide swath of sites.

The MBSL perform surveys across the polar regions of the Earth, mapping the circulation and sounding the ozone layer at many altitudes through long periods of polar summer. The MSBL landing system is also an attractive means of delivering payloads to the ground. Currently, the primary means of air-delivering payloads to areas where aircraft landing is impossible (and helicopter capacity is inadequate or too expensive) involves paradrop, which can be very violent and damaging to the payload. Using a solar balloon lander, much gentler delivery of equipment from air to ground could be achieved.