Mars Micro Balloon Inflation Program
The Mars Micro Balloon Probe (MMBP) is a project to create a low-cost airborne Mars photographic probe with a trans-Mars injection (TMI) mass an order of magnitude less than that of any Mars balloon probe designed to date. This can be done by approaching the gondola design in a spirit of ruthless minimalism, reducing it to a single instrument coupled with a computer, UHF radio transmitter/receiver, and a primary battery power supply suitable for a 1 day flight. In addition, large mass savings and greater simplicity and reliability can be achieved by replacing the traditional complex high pressure hydrogen or helium inflation gear coupled with superpressure or overpressure balloons with a novel self inflating zero-pressure balloon using ammonia or water vapor for lift. Combining these innovations, it is possible to create MMBP units with a total TMI mass, including entry system, on the order of 10 kg. Such light weight systems would be prime candidates to fly as hitch-hiker payloads on any of the numerous Mars missions planned for the near future. This would allow high resolution aerial photography to be performed on Mars without the loss of any of the surface or orbital science currently planned.
During the Phase 1 MMBP program, Pioneer demonstrated a working prototype of a 1 kg Mars aerial photographic gondola. During the Phase 2, we have concentrated on developing our innovative system for autonomous inflation of Mars balloons. On Aug, 26, this system was suvcessfully demonstrated over Byers Colorado at an altitude of 100,000 ft.
Pioneer's work on MMBP systems is supported by SBIR funding from Jet Propulsion Lab.