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The robotic balloon design is hoped to bring new extraterrestrial exploration opportunities
October 19, 2022
NASA has announced two successful test flights of its robotic balloon that could one day pave the way for novel exploration and discovery missions on Venus.
Undertaken by NASA’s Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the trial flights were completed over Nevada’s Black Rock desert and demonstrated the balloon’s durability, as well as the agency’s ability to control the balloon’s altitude and movement.
Given the high temperatures and noxious gasses on Venus’ surface, exploration missions to the planet have been limited. However, autonomous robotics provide a new possibility for sending missions to the inhospitable planet, and NASA seems confident its robotic balloon could be the answer.
The 40-foot balloon would work alongside a Venus orbiter, with the latter circling the planet above the atmosphere to store on-planet readings and act as a communication relay, while the former would travel into the atmosphere itself for on-planet exploration.
A smaller prototype was used for the testl flights. JPL collaborated with Near Space for the trial, with Near Space deploying its aerospace inflatables design for the balloon’s final form. The design features an inner and an outer balloon, with helium pumped to expand or contract the balloon to adapt to its altitude.
In these tests, the robotic balloon flew 4,000 feet over Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, which was selected for its temperature and atmosphere density that resembles the experience 180,000 feet above Venus.
“We’re extremely happy with the performance of the prototype,” said Jacob Izraelevitz, a robotics technologist at JPL. “It was launched, demonstrated controlled-altitude maneuvers, and was recovered in good condition after both flights.”
“We’ve recorded a mountain of data from these flights and are looking forward to using it to improve our simulation models before exploring our sister planet,” he added.
Ultimately, the team aims to launch the balloon into Venus’ atmosphere for 100 days, circumnavigating the planet from east to west while collecting data on a vast range of phenomena; from venusquakes to cloud composition.
Assistant Editor, IoT World Today
Scarlett Evans is the assistant editor for IoT World Today, with a particular focus on robotics and smart city technologies. Scarlett has previous experience in minerals and resources with Mine Australia, Mine Technology and Power Technology. She joined Informa in April 2022.
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