Performance optimization of plate airfoils for Martian rotor applications using a genetic algorithm

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Koning, W.J.F.
Romander, E.A.
Johnson, W.
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The Mars Helicopter Technology Demonstrator will be flying on the NASA Mars 2020 rover mission scheduled to launch in July of 2020. The goal is to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles in the Martian atmosphere. Research is performed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA Ames Research Center to extend these capabilities and develop the Mars Science Helicopter as the next possible step for Martian rotorcraft. The Mars Science Helicopter mass is scaled up to the 5 to 20 kg range, allowing a greater payload (approximately 0.5 to 2.0 kg), and greater range (approximately 3 km). Key to achieving these targets is careful aerodynamic rotor design. The Martian atmosphere’s low density and the small helicopter rotors result in very low chord-based Reynolds number flows, which reduces rotor performance. A continuous genetic algorithm is developed to optimize airfoil shapes at representative conditions for the Martian atmosphere. Previous research indicates that sharp leading edges and plate-like airfoils can out-perform conventional airfoil shapes. The present optimization allows for camber and thickness variation of curved and polygonal thin airfoils with sharp leading edges. The airfoil performance is evaluated at the highest attainable liftto-drag ratio near a moderate lift coefficient at compressible Mach numbers, as expected for Martian rotor application. Increases between 16% and 29% in airfoil lift-to-drag ratio at fixed lift coefficients are observed when compared with the Mars Helicopter Technology Demonstrator airfoils. Improvements in hover figure of merit are estimated to be between 4% and 10%, when applied to the Mars Helicopter Technology Demonstrator.