Airplane flight around Mars: what's the movie?

An aerospace company is designing an unmanned plane to fly around Mars and gather scientific data.

Aurora Fight Sciences has responded to a NASA's Scout mission proposals to explore the red planet with the idea of a plane that will "take off" on its descent into Mars' atmosphere.

Aurora Flight's MarsFlyer project, which will build on previous designs, will be delivered to Mars in a capsule via a conventional rocket.

As it enters Mars' atmosphere, an "aeoroshell," a parachute-like device, would slow the capsule down. During the trip toward the surface, the MarsFlyer would drop out of a capsule, unfold into its full shape, and begin flight.

The goal of the mission is to gather scientific information and get photos of Mars. The expected launch is 2011 and it takes about one year to get to Mars, according to Thomas Vaneck, vice president of research and development at Aurora Flight Sciences.

"This is so cool that even if we aren't successful with this one (proposal), we'll go after the next one because we'll learn so much," Vaneck said.

A prototype of the MarsFlyer will be built in the basement of the company's Cambridge, Mass. research and development facility.

The NASA Mars Scout programs don't specify that a plane be used. Other airborne vehicles, like balloons, or small landers are also fair game.

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