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Balloon Development Challenges for Mars

Ballooning in the Martian atmosphere is complicated by the fact that the Martian carbon dioxide atmosphere is very cold (200 K or -73 degrees C), and it is very thin at 0.006 bar, where 1 bar = 1 atmospheric surface pressure on Earth. In order to fly balloons at Mars, the balloons must be made of very lightweight material.

However, a number of balloon robots, or aerobots, have been proposed for Mars. One simple type is a helium balloon that carries a rope-like snake. During the day, the balloon would be heated by the sun and rise to some altitude above the Martian surface. At night, the balloon would cool, and land on the Martian surface when the landed snake reduces part of the effective mass of the balloon system. Although this type of balloon was proposed in the 1990's, it has never flown due to problems incurred during atmospheric inflation testing and due to fears that the snake might entangle, thus endangering the balloon.

Another type of balloon is a helium superpressure balloon that would fly at a nearly constant altitude for both day and night. The balloon's internal pressure would be higher during the day than at night, although the balloon volume would remain the same. This type of balloon has great potential for long duration flights, possibly several weeks, but a strong, lightweight, leak-proof material must first be developed and successfully tested in a system where the balloon inflates while falling through the Martian atmosphere.

A third type of Martian balloon is known as a solar Montgolfiere, or a solar-heated hot air balloon. This simple, lightweight balloon system shows great promise for long-duration balloon flights over Mar's polar regions during summer, as well as for soft-landing payloads on the Martian surface.

 

 


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