The DOME Project (Drone Operations for Martian Environment) is a research group, built between universities and companies which aims at developing new remote and autonomous operated aerial platforms for the Environment of the Mars surface.
Aerial drone platforms are a cutting-edge technology asset in a huge range of human operations such as medical, firefighting and military scenarios. In extraplanetary exploration, aerial drone platforms can cover the operational conditions that meet both the high precision capabilities of surface rovers and the extensive areas coverage capabilities typical of orbital operations.
In almost 60 years of human exploration of Mars, we tested a wide range of technologies on its surface, using platforms as Rovers, probes and orbiters. Mars is the planets with the biggest robot population in the solar system.
Right now the most realistic strategy for a sustainable human presence on Mars is through the ISRU (In Situ Resources Utilisation), which use can significantly reduce the need of continuous resupply missions from earth.
Until we explored less then the 1% of the Mars surface. We need new platforms to rapidly increase our exploration capabilities if we want to seriously boost the first human missions.
Aerial Drone technology has evolved faster and faster during the last years thanks to its recognised value for the automation of human activities. Hardware miniaturization and high efficiency of machine learning protocols, brought this technology to a fundamental role in high-risks scenarios.
Mars, thanks to its similarity with the Earth in terms of planetary environmental condition, represents a total new ground to expand the boundaries of this technology.
Aerial drones can become a fundamental subsystem of every human activity on Mars: logistics, safety inspections, surface mapping and multispectral analysis can be safely left to swarms of autonomous flying drones.
The DOME project research background is focused on:
X-5 VTOL MAPPING DRONE
The X-5 Drone is an experimental concept for an autonomous aerial platform designed to complement the firsts human crews on the martian surface. The X-5 is powered by lightweights flexible double-junction solar panels, that assure a dawn-sunset flight autonomy. Thanks to its VTOL capabilities, the Drone can autonomously take off and reach the mission objectives without the need for a direct control from the crew.
The X-5 Payload is composed by 2 cameras (one fixed global-shutter camera and one for navigation) and a huge range of sensors. The camera can be switched for more mission-specific payloads such as multispectral sensors or thermal vision devices.
The operational scenarios covered by the X-5 are:
The X-5 Drone will be tested by the crew 212 during the LATAM III mission at the MDRS.
The project consists on testing possible mission scenarios for an unmanned aerial vehicle in the proximity of the MDRS, to evaluate its utility and the amount of crew involvement that would be required. A quadcopter will be used to perform multiple missions during EVAs, and the possibility of commanding the vehicle from inside the station will be evaluated. Focus will be given to navigation technologies, with the possibility of testing a system of beacons distributed around the station to allow the triangulation of the signal; this is due to the current absence of a global positioning system on Mars.
Two different types of scenarios will be evaluated: exploration and monitoring. In the first case, the drone is flying autonomously and it’s used by the crew from the inside of the station to take pictures of the surroundings. This enables the crew to acquire a general understanding of the environment around the station, and can also be used as a weathercasting system for sandstorms. For monitoring missions, the drone looks back at the station and navigates autonomously to specific points of interest on the MDRS facilities and allows their observation by the crew.