Venus is the second planet in the solar system, and certainly difficult to explore. Being very close to the sun, it has a surface hot enough not only to keep humans away, but also robots. So much so that the last thing to land on Venus was a probe in the mid-1980s. At the time, the Soviet Union sent the Vega spacecraft to explore the planet. It lasted less than an hour. That is, the scientist community does not have much data on Venus. A new robot is being built specifically to survive our neighbor’s approximately 850 degrees Fahrenheit weather.
Jonathan Sauder, an engineer at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is one of those who worked with JPL engineer Evan Hilgemann to build a rover that theoretically could last for a few days, maybe weeks, or maybe months. In addition to the high temperature, the atmosphere is composed of a mixture of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and sulfur dioxide, which makes it dense enough to crush a submarine.
But how did the engineers design a robot to survive this? Well, in this environment, electronic components would get fried in a matter of minutes. Therefore, the AREE (acronym for “Automation Rover For Extreme Environments”) will not feature state-of-the-art sensors and processors such as current probes. Instead, mechanical, older, sturdy and durable computers will be used, and as few electronics as possible.
Thus, the robot will have war tank rails to move around without needing a camera system to avoid holes. This way, it can simply ignore and withstand the unexpected bumps caused by uneven soil. To send the data, it will use an optical reflector that transmits information in the form of Morse code, blinking lights to satellites that accompany Venus in the distance. The battery will be supplied by wind turbines.
It will not be a dense system of information transmission. The AREE is designed to transmit 1,000 bits per day, compared to the 1 million bits of Curiosity, but this limitation is for a fair cause. By sacrificing the smarter technologies for resistance, NASA is betting on a rover that will last longer and travel farther than the more advanced.
But it will take some time. For now, the team that developed the project is still preparing to build a prototype, which should take three years to get ready. If we are lucky in the success of the prototype and the construction of the final model, it is possible that the mission will be carried out in the future.