MAGGIE, the Mars Aerial and Ground Intelligent Explorer, is a solar-powered aircraft designed to take off and land vertically. Its technical brief states it can fly as far as 111 miles (179 km) on a single charge and is rated to cruise for nearly 10,000 miles (16,048 km) during a single Mars year, which is equal to roughly 24 months on Earth.
Flying 3,300 feet (1,000 meters) above the Red Planet, MAGGIE would focus on three science investigations: the hunt for water, a better understanding of the source of the weak Mars magnetic field, and the search for signals of elusive methane (which may or may not be a signal of life, depending on the source.)
The caveat with MAGGIE is how early-stage the technology is, principal investigator Ge-Cheng Zha of Coflow Jet, LLC wrote in the mission's technical notes. While the concept "appears to be feasible," Zha urges further study "under Martian atmospheric conditions," which would be less than 1% that of Earth's at sea level.
Providing the Phase 1 funding from NIAC allows the concept to continue, Zha said, also explaining that the plane would be useful for large-scale surveys one day.
MAGGIE, Zha stated, "would revolutionize our capability of exploring almost the entirety of the Martian surface" and would get a lot of public engagement due to its "audacity, and in the variety of environments it could explore, study and image."