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NASA asks to come up with a sensor for the Venusian mechanical rover

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has announced a tender to develop a sensor for the future Venus rover. This sensor, like the entire rover, must do without electronic components and be completely mechanical, since the electronics cannot withstand the extremely high temperature and pressure on the surface of the planet for a long time. Conditions of the competition published on crowdsourcing platform heroX.

The temperature on the surface of Venus reaches 450 degrees Celsius, and atmospheric pressure is 92 times higher than Earth. Although the Soviet probes several times managed to make a soft landing on the planet (read about this in our material “Reach Venus”), but the record of the duration of work on the surface – until the moment when the electronics failed due to extreme conditions – did not exceed 127 minutes.

Russian and American scientists are working on projects for long-lived probes. In particular, Russian apparatus “Venera-D”is expected to be able to work on the surface for about two to three hours. However, NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program participants believe that the use of additional measures to protect electronics or refrigeration units will greatly increase the cost of the project and can extend the life of the probe by no more than a day.

Therefore, they proposed abandoning electronics in favor of mechanical machines similar in principle to mechanical watches or giant walking designs by Dutch artist Theo Jansen. The first phase of developing a mechanical rover for extreme environments (Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments – AREE) ended in 2017. It is assumed that the rover will receive energy from the wind generator, store it using springs similar to a clock spring, and it will be controlled by a mechanical computer.

The most difficult task for developers was the organization of communication and data transfer to Earth. As one of the options that allowed us to do without electronics, we considered recording information on rollers similar to phonograph rollers, and then sending them to the upper atmosphere using an aerostat. There, the balloon was to be picked up by an unmanned aerial vehicle, capable of reading data from the roller and transmitting it to the orbital vehicle. Another, more realistic, according to the authors, method involved the use of electronic devices, but not based on semiconductor transistors, but on the basis of vacuum electron tubes, which are more resistant to high temperatures.

Now the Jet Propulsion Laboratory has announced a competition for the development of sensors that will prevent the rover from getting into a dangerous situation when moving along the surface of Venus. This sensor should detect large stones, crevices, steep slopes in advance, and, most importantly, be completely mechanical.

Applications must be submitted by May 29, and winners will be announced in early July. For the first place, a reward of 15 thousand dollars will be paid, for the second place – 10 thousand, and for the third – five.

About how the Soviet cameras were arranged, which first sent photos of the surface of Venus, read our material Warm Tube Pixel.

Sergey Kuznetsov

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