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Space & Astronomy

NASA is developing a clockwork Venus probe

By T.K. Randall
August 29, 2017 · Comment icon 15 comments

The design is certainly unique. Image Credit: ESA/J. Whatmore/NASA/JPL-Caltech
The atmospheric conditions on Venus are so hostile that NASA's next probe may use a mechanical computer.
With surface temperatures exceeding 860 degrees and crushing atmospheric pressures that are more than 100 times those found on the Earth, Venus is an extremely inhospitable place to go exploring.

Previous efforts by Russia to land probes on its surface in the 1970s were met with only limited success due to the spacecraft typically lasting little more than an hour before failing.

The design for NASA's upcoming Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments (AREE) project therefore will need to be extremely sturdy if it is going to have a chance of surviving for very long.
To this end, scientists have decided to ditch the idea of using standard electronic components entirely in favor of an old-fashioned clockwork computer powered by the planet's strong winds.

The design they've come up with, which looks like something out of a 1950s science fiction movie, would even utilize Morse code as a means with which to communicate with the Earth.

"Venus is too inhospitable for kind of complex control systems you have on a Mars rover," said JPL mechanical engineer Jonathan Sauder.

"But with a fully mechanical rover, you might be able to survive as long as a year."

Source: Gizmodo | Comments (15)




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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #6 Posted by Merc14 7 years ago
I really think you should read the article before posting your cut and paste complaints
Comment icon #7 Posted by Parsec 7 years ago
That is really super cool and quite an outside of the box thinking!    Unfortunately, as far as I understand, there will be no cameras, thus no pictures.  I also wonder, if they'd ever find a way to use a camera, how much data loss and corruption (read a lot of artifacts in the pics) there would be, considering that they should convert pixels in morse code and then revert them back. 
Comment icon #8 Posted by bison 7 years ago
A durable rover on the surface of Venus; an intriguing problem. Some interesting concepts mentioned in the article. A good radar reflector, long used by mariners, is three flat metal plates, each at right angles to the other two, and with a common center. These can be collapsed flat, and unfolded for use, if properly slotted.
Comment icon #9 Posted by highdesert50 7 years ago
The application of silicon carbide technology is compelling and I would assume the relative newness and crudeness of that technology is limiting the transmissions to simple code (CW). A CW transmitter might only require several transistors depending upon power level. As the technology ramps up, I could then imagine the opportunity for video using more complex digital modes that require less power yet provide greater bandwidth.
Comment icon #10 Posted by bison 7 years ago
The maximum operating temperature I've seen mentioned for silicon carbide semiconductors is around 300 degrees Celsius. Has the heat tolerance been improved beyond that figure?  Venus' average temperature is about 460 degrees Celsius. I'd be concerned, too, about the heat vulnerability of supporting components, like capacitors. There's been work to harden Si C transistor driver circuits to ~ 200 degrees Celsius, but that's still well short of the requirements for a long term Venus Rover. 
Comment icon #11 Posted by bmk1245 7 years ago
Well, And I remember reading about SiC transistors working at temperatures over 600 °C.   Paper focusing on the issue (SiC in Venus surface atmospheric conditions).
Comment icon #12 Posted by bison 7 years ago
Thanks, bmk, those links were very informative!
Comment icon #13 Posted by paperdyer 7 years ago
Lack of pictures will be quite unfortunate.  Is the cloud cover too dense for a satellite to get pictures from space with some type of camera?  I guess IR is out due to the temperature, but aren't there  UV cameras of somesort now?
Comment icon #14 Posted by bison 7 years ago
They've tried looking at Venus in the ultraviolet. It reveals some atmospheric stripes and partially defined cloudy areas, not otherwise seen.  The atmospheric absorption of ultraviolet light still prevents views of the planet's surface.
Comment icon #15 Posted by Calibeliever 7 years ago
They have had a lot of success imaging the surface with radar and limited success (on the dark side) imaging in Infrared. UV has been used to study the composition of the upper atmosphere but, as you suspected, the cloud cover is too thick for it to penetrate very far.


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