NASA’s daring and creative project to send a swarm of robotic bees (or “Marsbees”) to the Red Planet may soon be underway. The idea, known as the Martian Bee Program, has moved on from discussion stage to actually appointing the man who will get the job done, reports the Hatchet.
According to the news outlet, the scientist in charge of developing the robotic bees is Taeyoung Lee, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at George Washington University (GWU) in Washington, D.C.
Lee will be working closely with a team of scientists from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, tasked with crafting the bumblebee-sized robots over the following months.
In a March 30 press release, NASA announced that the University of Alabama team will “numerically model, analyze, and optimize” the robo bees for withstanding the atmospheric conditions on Mars.
Lee’s job will be to design and build the “Marsbees” together with Chang-Kwon Kang, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Alabama.
“All of the design parameters, such as the size and the shape of the wing, the flapping frequency, the mission design, should be optimized for the Mars environment,” he said in a statement.
The purpose of the “Marsbees” is to provide a cost-efficient alternative to the expensive manned missions that would normally be required for the exploration of Mars.
The robo bees will fly off to the Red Planet in search of alien life. At the same time, the robotic insects will be collecting mineral and gaseous samples, while also mapping the planet’s surface.
The “Marsbees” will be equipped with a discriminatory 3D camera for the specific purpose of creating a topographic map of the Martian landscape, Kang disclosed in an email to NBC, notes Spaceflight News.
In addition, the robo bees will be carrying solar cells in their wings, enabling the robots to harvest solar energy as they buzz around inspecting the Red Planet, Lee told the Hatchet via email.
According to Diana LaChance, spokeswoman for the project, the Martian Bee Program is still in its first phase of development, which so far involves computer analysis to assess the feasibility of building and launching the robots. Once the first phase is complete, the team will test the robots’ resistance to atmospheric changes, LaChance explained.
The project costs, along with the exact number of robo bees to be built and the means of deploying them on Mars, will be determined at a later date, she added.
To get the ball rolling, NASA has already signed off on a $125,000 Phase I award, granted this year by its Innovative Advanced Concepts program to another 24 early-stage technology proposals that have the “potential to revolutionize future space exploration.”