Monday, March 16, 2020

NASA Public Design Contest: Venus Rover Obstacle Avoidance Sensor


Artist's concept (2020 February 21) of a proposed wind-powered, Venus Rover probe, being considered for a future launch.
(Image Sources: NASA, Wikipedia.org, By NASA/JPL-Caltech - https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/images/venus/20200221/Rover-2-16.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=87366612)

By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower

After several successful probes and rovers sent to the Planet Mars, NASA is now starting to design a rover to probe the hostile surface of the Planet Venus. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is offering a $15,000 prize for the successful entry in a public contest to design an obstacle avoidance sensor for this Venus rover.

Venus is known as Earth's “sister” planet, as Venus is just a wee bit smaller than the Earth (with a similar mass and gravity) and approaches closer to Earth than any other planet. However, that is where the similarities end. Venus is shrouded with opaque and highly-reflective clouds of sulfuric acid, in an extremely dense atmosphere (densest atmosphere of the four terrestrial planets in our Solar System), consisting of more than 96% carbon dioxide (CO2) which has created a run-away Greenhouse Effect on the planet.

Venus' atmospheric pressure at the planet's surface is 92 times stronger than the pressure on Earth's surface (roughly the pressure found 3,000 feet / 900 meters under the oceans on Earth). NASA notes that this great pressure could easily crush a nuclear-powered submarine.

With a mean surface temperature of +863 degrees Fahrenheit / +462 degrees Celsius / +735 degrees Kelvin, Venus is by-far the hottest planet in the Solar System, despite the fact that Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun. And, NASA adds that this heat “can turn lead into a puddle.”

These planetary conditions have made a surface study of Venus very challenging. Both the United States and Russia have had limited success landing probes on Venus. In fact, while the United States has had greater success with probes to the Martian surface, Russia, before dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, had concentrated on Venusian landers with notable successes.

The Russian Venera 7 probe became the first spacecraft to soft-land on Venus on 1970 December 15, which stayed in contact with Earth for 23 minutes. The Russian probes Venera 9 and Venera 10 landed and took the first surface photographs of Venus in October of 1975. The first color photographs of the Venus surface were sent back to Earth by the Soviet Venera 13 lander in 1981, which lasted on the surface for a record 127 minutes.

NASA had some success with the Pioneer Venus Multiprobe in 1978, when one of four small probes survived a landing on Venus. This probe transmitted data from the surface for more than an hour.

The last Earth probe to land on Venus was the Russian Vega 2 in 1985.

So, this new Venus rover project will be one of NASA's greatest challenges to-date. Called the Automation Rover for Extreme Environments (AREE), this probe will be designed to operate on the surface of Venus, not for an hour or two, but for months!

AREE is planned to be powered by the Venusian winds, which seem to be somewhat strong and fairly constant on the planet's surface. According to NASA, the extreme pressure on the surface of Venus means that the fairly low wind speeds would feel almost like gale-force winds here on Earth.

The challenge that the Jet Propulsion Laboratory has offered for consideration by the general public is to develop an obstacle avoidance sensor for the AREE rover. The “Exploring Hell: Avoiding Obstacles on a Clockwork Rover” challenge seeks a sensor to be incorporated into the final design of the Venus rover. This sensor would be the primary mechanism for the rover to detect and navigate around surface obstructions.

As of now, there is no time-line for when the AREE would be launched toward Venus. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory hopes that the successful development of a robust obstacle avoidance sensor will strengthen the case to return to Venus with a rover, sooner rather than later.

First prize for the winning entry will be $15,000. Second prize ($10,000) and third prize ($5,000) will also be awarded.

Entries are due 2020 May 29.

More information on this “Exploring Hell: Avoiding Obstacles on a Clockwork Rover” challenge:



Internet Links to Additional Information ---

Planet Venus: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus

Observations & Explorations of Venus:
Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observations_and_explorations_of_Venus

Automation Rover for Extreme Environments (AREE):
Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automaton_Rover_for_Extreme_Environments

Transit of Venus, 2004 & 2012, Viewed from Pittsburgh:
Link >>> http://venustransit.pghfree.net/

Related Blog Posts ---

"Extremely Close Conjunction of Venus & Jupiter Saturday Night." Sat., 2016 Aug. 27.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2016/08/extremely-close-conjunction-of-venus.html


"NASA Astronauts to Visit Venus Atmosphere Before Mars?" Mon., 2014 Dec. 29.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2014/12/nasa-astronauts-to-visit-venus.html


Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss.
              Monday, 2020 March 16.

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gaw

Glenn A. Walsh, Informal Science Educator & Communicator:
http://buhlplanetarium2.tripod.com/weblog/spacewatchtower/gaw/ >
Electronic Mail: < gawalsh@planetarium.cc >
Project Director, Friends of the Zeiss: < http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/fotz/ >
SpaceWatchtower Editor / Author: < http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/ >
Formerly Astronomical Observatory Coordinator & Planetarium Lecturer, original Buhl Planetarium & Institute of Popular Science (a.k.a. Buhl Science Center), Pittsburgh's science & technology museum from 1939 to 1991.
Formerly Trustee, Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall, Pittsburgh suburb of Carnegie, Pennsylvania.
Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
* Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh:
  < http://www.planetarium.cc >
* Adler Planetarium, Chicago:
  < http://adlerplanetarium.tripod.com >
* Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear:
  < http://johnbrashear.tripod.com >
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries:
  < http://www.andrewcarnegie.cc >

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