Designing a drone that can search for life on other planets

How a trip to the Arctic could help researchers build better tools for planetary exploration

March 10, 2023

The Haughton meteorite impact crater site in Canada is similar to Mars in many ways, making it a great place for researchers to test new technology that could one day be used to explore other planets. Here a team of researchers working on the ground are seen from a drone.

Nina Lanza, a planetary scientist with the Space Remote Sensing and Data Science group and principal investigator on the ChemCam instrument on the Mars Curiosity rover, recently contributed this article to's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

Lanza writes about a team from Los Alamos National Laboratory that traveled to a remote crater in the Arctic circle to test the Gamma Rotorcraft for Analog Planetary Environments mission concept, or GRAPE, which is a drone-based instrument concept that could one day search for life on other planets without relying on human guidance. Scientists want to go to one of the least hospitable places on Earth because the Haughton Crater is an ideal Mars analog — or stand-in — and can serve as a testbed for them to test new planetary exploration equipment.

Read the column.