Is NASA Ready For A Venus Rover?

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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A team of NASA scientists developed electronics that can operate in the harsh conditions on Venus’ surface.

The new developments mean NASA could soon send a rover to Venus.

“With further technology development, such electronics could drastically improve Venus lander designs and mission concepts, enabling the first long-duration missions to the surface of Venus,” Phil Neudeck, lead electronics engineer for this NASA project, said in a press statement. “We demonstrated vastly longer electrical operation with chips directly exposed—no cooling and no protective chip packaging—to a high-fidelity physical and chemical reproduction of Venus’ surface atmosphere.”

Presently, extreme conditions on Venus prevent landers from operating on the planet’s surface for longer than a few hours. Venus’ average surface temperature is typically 864 degrees Fahrenheit, making it hotter than most ovens. Typical electronics simply can’t operate in such an environment, forcing any landers to be protected by thermal and pressure-resistant shells. These shells only last a few hours and are extremely expensive, limiting the amount of science that can be done on the planet.

NASA’s Glenn team created an extremely durable silicon carbide circuit and tested it in a lab simulating conditions of the Venus surface. The circuits tolerated the extreme temperatures and atmospheric conditions for 521 hours, about 100 times longer than any other Venus mission.

“This work not only enables the potential for new science in extended Venus surface and other planetary exploration, but it also has potentially significant impact for a range of Earth relevant applications, such as in aircraft engines to enable new capabilities, improve operations, and reduce emissions,” Gary Hunter, NASA’s principle investigator for Venus surface electronics development, told reporters.

NASA has a long history of successfully operating rovers on Mars. The agency’s Curiosity rover found evidence that organic material is “all over” the Red Planet in December as well as discovering new geological evidence of liquid water possibly flowing on the Red Planet in the distant past.

The U.S. space agency is currently operating two rovers on Mars, dubbed “Opportunity” and “Curiosity.” America’s space agency successfully landed seven different probes on Mars and only crashed two.

No country besides the U.S. has successfully operated a probe on Mars for longer than 14.5 seconds.

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