Is this the machine that will finally help us explore Venus' ravaged surface? Rover could sail its way across the planet carrying electronics that function at 450°C

  • The rover, dubbed the Zephyr, is designed to work at extremely low powers
  • Nasa envisages a sail seven meters in height and covered in solar cells
  • It has been designed to withstand Venus' corrosive atmosphere, acidic clouds, crushing pressures and fierce winds

By Ellie Zolfagharifard

PUBLISHED: 05:53 EST, 27 August 2013 | UPDATED: 06:54 EST, 27 August 2013

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Crushing pressures, powerful winds and acidic clouds have meant that any probes ever sent to Venus have only ever lasted a few hours. 

Now Nasa is proposing a windsurfing rover that it claims could to take on Venus' severe environment by sailing across its surface.

The rover, dubbed the Zephyr, is designed to work at extremely low powers while carrying electronics that can function at a temperature of 450°C.

Sailing rover

The rover, dubbed the Zephyr, is being proposed by Geoffrey Landis of the Glenn Research Center. It is designed to work at extremely low powers and only has two moving parts

It is being designed by Geoffrey Landis of the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland as part of Nasa’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) programme.

Venus is often labelled as Earth's twin due to its similar size, gravity and ‘terrestrial’ composition, which is largely made up of silicate rocks or metals.

In reality, however, Venus is thought to be one of the most hostile environments in the solar system.

The planet is cloaked in a thick layer of highly reflective clouds of sulphuric acid.

It has the densest atmosphere of the four terrestrial planets in our solar system, consisting mostly of carbon dioxide.

Zephyr

The tri-wheeled Venus Landsailing Rover-rising some seven meters or 22 feet above the Venus terrain- will be mostly stationary.analysing the ground, and every now and then will rove across Venus to a new spot

The crushing atmospheric pressure at the planet's surface is 92 times that of Earth's.

‘Compared to Mars, Venus has been a comparatively unexplored planet,’ said Dr Landis, detailing his progress during the 2013 NIAC Spring Symposium, held last March in Chicago.

‘But Venus is phenomenally difficult to explore,’ he added.

Dr Landis claims the ideal vehicle to do so would need to be able to rove across the surface using the ambient resources of the planet.

‘One approach is just live with the high temperatures by using high-temperature devices,’ said Mr Landis.

Venus’ environment is comparable to inside of a revved up jet engine, and Glenn technologists have pioneered sensors that can work in these conditions.

Panorama of a landscape on Venus.

Venus and its corrosive atmosphere is thought to be one of the most hostile environments in the solar system. The planet is cloaked in a thick layer of highly reflective clouds of sulphuric acid

VENUS' 'HELLISH' ENVIRONMENT

Venus is a dim world of intense heat and volcanic activity.

Similar in structure and size to Earth, Venus' thick, toxic atmosphere traps heat.

The scorched world has temperatures hot enough to melt lead. 

It has the densest atmosphere of the four terrestrial planets in our solar system, consisting mostly of carbon dioxide.

The crushing atmospheric pressure at the planet's surface is 92 times that of Earth's.

According to the team, their electronics can function even at the sweltering Venus temperature of 450°C.

Venus’ winds are a little over 2mph, but provide significant force.

‘A sail rover would be extraordinary for Venus. The sail has only two moving parts-just to set the sail and set the steering position-and that doesn't require a lot of power.

‘There's no power required to actually drive,’ said Mr Landis.

The tri-wheeled Venus Landsailing Rover-rising some seven meters or 22 feet above the Venus terrain-won't be a speedster scooting across the planet, Landis said.

The planet Venus is captured by the Magellan probe's

Similar in structure and size to Earth, Venus' thick, toxic atmosphere traps heat. The scorched world has temperatures hot enough to melt lead

It will be a vehicle that mostly sits in one place, analysing the ground, and every now and then will rove across Venus to a new spot.

‘Most of Venus is remarkably flat,’ he added. ‘It is as flat and rocky as a parking lot.’

The rover is designed to drive equally well forward or backward. This allows the vehicle to back off of obstructions.

Mr Landis and his colleagues on the NIAC-funded study envisage 12 square meters of solar cell-laden sail-tooling across Venus for about a month, chalking up 15 minutes of sailing per day.

‘The fundamental elements of a rover for Venus are not beyond the bounds of physics,’ said Mr Landis.

‘We could survive the furnace of Venus if we can come up with an innovative concept for a rover that can move on extremely low power levels,’ he said.

By Staff 08/27/2013 00:54:00