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Mars Solar-Powered Plane

Mars Solar-Powered Plane to Look for Water on Mars


In a groundbreaking initiative that could redefine Martian exploration, NASA is pioneering the development of a Mars solar-powered plane named the Mars Aerial and Ground Intelligent Explorer (MAGGIE). As part of the Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program, MAGGIE represents a significant leap in the field of aerospace technology. This Mars solar-powered plane is tailored to navigate the challenging Martian atmosphere using solar energy, a feat that promises to unlock new frontiers in our quest to understand the Red Planet.

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Graphic depiction of Mars Aerial and Ground Global Intelligent Explorer (MAGGIE). Ge-Cheng Zha

Mars Solar-Powered Plane: A Paradigm Shift in Aerospace Design

Innovative Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) Capabilities

The Mars solar-powered plane, MAGGIE, incorporates advanced technology, enabling it to take off and land vertically (VTOL), a critical feature given Mars’ thin atmosphere. The implementation of the deflected slipstream with Co-Flow Jet (CFJ) technology is a cornerstone of this capability, positioning MAGGIE as a pioneer in Martian aerial navigation.

Would a Plane Work on Mars?

A conventional airplane like those we use on Earth would not work on Mars, but that doesn’t mean flying on the Red Planet is entirely impossible! Here’s why:


Thin atmosphere: The Martian atmosphere is only about 1% as dense as Earth’s, meaning wings wouldn’t generate enough lift for a typical plane to take off or stay airborne.

Lack of oxygen: Most airplane engines, like jet engines and piston engines, need oxygen from the atmosphere to combust their fuel. With barely any oxygen in Mars’ atmosphere, these engines wouldn’t function.

Possible Solutions:

Specialized aircraft: Engineers are designing aircraft specifically for Mars with extremely large wings, lightweight materials, and alternative propulsion systems. Examples include:

Gliders: These could be dropped from high altitudes and glide for limited distances.

Rocket planes: These use rocket engines instead of airfoils for propulsion, providing lift independent of the atmosphere.

Helicopters: NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter successfully demonstrated powered flight on Mars in 2021, proving the feasibility of helicopters with large rotors and efficient engines.

Future Potential:

While regular air travel like on Earth isn’t likely on Mars anytime soon, specialized aircraft could play a valuable role in future Martian exploration.

Exceptional Lift Coefficient for Mars’ Atmosphere

MAGGIE’s design confronts the challenge of Mars’ low air density head-on. With a lift coefficient (CL) of 3.5, nearly ten times that of conventional subsonic aircraft, this Mars solar-powered plane demonstrates exceptional adaptability to the Martian environment. This high lift coefficient is essential for efficient operation in the thin Martian atmosphere.

Unparalleled Range and Endurance of Mars Solar-Powered Plane

MAGGIE’s range and endurance are key to its potential success. This Mars solar-powered plane can cover 179 kilometers on a fully charged battery over 7.6 Martian days (sols) at an altitude of 1,000 meters. Over a Martian year (approximately 687 Earth days), it is estimated to cover a total distance of 16,048 kilometers, showcasing a range previously unachieved in Mars exploration.

Diverse Mission Objectives of the Mars Solar-Powered Plane

MAGGIE is not just an engineering marvel; its mission objectives are as diverse as they are significant.

Can Drones Work on Mars?

One example of a Mars drone that’s already proven its mettle is NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter. This little chopper made history in 2021 by becoming the first aircraft to ever fly on another planet. Ingenuity has been soaring around Mars for over two years now, taking stunning aerial photos and proving that powered flight is possible on the Red Planet.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In-Depth Atmospheric and Geophysical Studies

A primary goal of this Mars solar-powered plane is to conduct atmospheric and geophysical investigations. This includes studying the Martian core dynamo and investigating methane signals in the Gale Crater. Such studies are crucial for understanding Mars’ atmospheric dynamics and geological history.

High-Resolution Mapping of Subsurface Water Ice

MAGGIE aims to map subsurface water ice at high resolutions, particularly in the Martian mid-latitudes. This mission could provide vital insights into the availability and distribution of water on Mars, a key element in the search for life.

Comprehensive Geological Analysis

Through its various missions, this Mars solar-powered plane seeks to unravel Mars’ geological secrets. By analyzing the Martian surface and subsurface, MAGGIE could reveal significant information about the planet’s past and its potential to support life.

The Broader Impact of Mars Solar-powered Plane on Space Exploration

The deployment of MAGGIE, a Mars solar-powered plane, marks a significant milestone in space exploration.

Is Mars Helicopter Still Working?

Yes, the Mars Helicopter, officially named Ingenuity, is still working as of January 22, 2024!

It just completed its 72nd flight on January 18th, 2024. This flight was a short vertical pop-up to check the helicopter’s systems after an unplanned early landing during its previous flight. Data sent to the Perseverance rover indicates that Ingenuity’s systems are all healthy and functioning well.

Pioneering Solar-Powered Flight in Extraterrestrial Environments

MAGGIE’s reliance on solar power is a testament to the viability of renewable energy in space missions. This initiative could spearhead the development of more solar-powered vehicles in future extraterrestrial explorations.

Redefining Mars Exploration

The comprehensive data expected from this Mars solar-powered plane will redefine our understanding of Mars. This could have profound implications for space science and our search for extraterrestrial life.

Future Aerospace Innovations with Mars solar-powered plane

MAGGIE is showcasing the capabilities of a Mars solar-powered plane. This achievement opens the door to new possibilities in aerospace design and exploration strategies. It has the potential to inspire a new generation of space explorers and engineers.


MAGGIE, the Mars solar-powered plane, stands as a beacon of innovation in the realm of space exploration. With its advanced design, impressive range, and ambitious scientific goals, MAGGIE epitomizes NASA’s dedication to exploring and understanding Mars. As this Mars solar-powered plane gears up for its groundbreaking mission, it carries with it the hopes and curiosity of humanity. The success of MAGGIE could not only revolutionize our approach to exploring Mars but also significantly enhance our understanding of the potential for life beyond Earth, marking a new chapter in the annals of space exploration.

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