NASA aims to use "nanocardboard" flyers that are powered by the users of lasers and even inspired the structure of corrugated cardboard in order to collect evidence of life on our neighboring planet, Mars.
Engineers from the United States have said that a fleet of these miniature aircraft would soon be launched from particular ground-based rovers and can be controlled with light in order for it to collect chemical samples from the Red Planet itself.
Each one of these devices uses a hollow plate of aluminum oxide only for a few nanometers thick which pretty much looks like corrugated cardboard. This new technology would make these devices weigh only as much as a fruit fly or about third of a milligram, and functionally levitates due to the change in air temperature.
The use of these devices
The spacecraft is extremely well suited for planets just like Mars, where the thin atmosphere compact with low gravity enhances this fleet's very ability to levitate. The developers firmly believe that the availability of their "nanocardboard" vessels could definitely help the exploration apparatus of NASA's Mars 2020 rover, which is due to launch this very July.
Perseverance is said to carry with it the very first aircraft to ever fly the environments of another planet, called the Mars Helicopter, but there is still a need for other alternatives in case of malfunction.
According to a professor of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics over at Penn University, Mr. Igor Bargatin, the Mars Helicopter is actually a very complicated machine and that if it is broken, there is no way of fixing it. The professor then states that their proposal is to not put all of the mission's eggs in one basket.
The use of this new technology
The construction of these devices makes use of aluminum oxide film which thickness is only tens of nanometers in order for them to form a hollow plate with a total height of just ten microns. This sandwich structure is very much inspired by corrugated cardboard where the upper and lower layers of the card and a rippled or fluted layer in between.
The mere design of this corrugated cardboard is what helps give this material its durability and even a cushioning effect when impacted, which is also fairly light due to the air on Mars. The researchers at Penn University have installed corrugated layers inspired by paper carboards through the concept of "sandwich structures" which are both used in architecture and aviation.
The use of these hollow channels actually allows the devices to levitate with a simple application of heat, which could then turn into a pin-point laser emanating from NASA's very own Mars 2020 rover. This brilliant nanocardboard heats up, and the difference in temperature actually gets air circulating within its hollow structure resulting in it shooting out of its corrugated channels and thus thrusting it off the ground.