Scientists may power future Martian missions by flying a kite

Shane McGlaun - May 12, 2021, 6:16am CDT
Scientists may power future Martian missions by flying a kite

Currently, rovers that are exploring the surface of Mars are often powered by solar energy. Some rely on other sources of energy, but solar is common. The challenge is that solar panels can get covered by dust that proliferates on the surface of Mars, reducing power or potentially leaving the systems they power unable to operate. Researchers at the ESA have been working on a new potential way to power rovers on Mars in the future that involves flying a kite.

Researchers from Delft University of Technology think that flying a large kite would allow robots to harness high Martian wind speeds and could provide enough energy to sustain astronauts going about their everyday work. The production and storage of renewable energy on Mars is quite a challenge. Since Mars is further from the Sun than the Earth, it only gets 43 percent of the sunlight we get here on Earth. That means solar power is less effective.

Currently, it’s impossible to send wind turbines and regular batteries to Mars because they are too heavy. Researchers suggested the possibility of generating energy using kites in part because winds on Mars are on average faster than those on Earth. However, the atmosphere on Mars is less dense. The higher wind speeds and lower density balance out, according to researchers, but not fully. That means the surface area of the kite would need to increase drastically.

The team points to the Ingenuity helicopter currently operating on Mars that has much larger rotor blades than drones of similar size here on Earth. The kite would require a surface area of 50 square meters. It would be attached to a large drum on the ground via a cable, and as the kite flies into the Martian sky would pull more cable that would rotate the drum creating energy.

Researchers would also have 70 square meters of solar panels converting light into electricity. By combining those two methods, scientists believe we would be able to provide enough power to sustain a base on Mars, allowing astronauts to have power at night and to store energy for use in different seasons. The team believes the entire system could produce 127 megawatts-hours of energy each year, enough to power about five households in the US.

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