NASA runs public challenge to develop sensor for possible Venus rover

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NASA 2020
NASA

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is running a public challenge to develop an obstacle avoidance sensor for a possible future Venus rover, according to a latest release from JPL.

The “Exploring Hell: Avoiding Obstacles on a Clockwork Rover” challenge is seeking public designs for a sensor that could be incorporated into the design concept.

Venus is an extreme world. With a surface temperature in excess of 840 degrees Fahrenheit and a surface pressure 90 times that of Earth, Venus can turn lead into a puddle and crush a nuclear-powered submarine with ease.

While many missions have visited the planet, only about a dozen have made contact with the surface of Venus before quickly succumbing to the oppressive heat and pressure, according to JPL.

The last spacecraft to touch the planet’s surface, the Soviet Vega 2, landed in 1985. Engineers and scientists at JPL are now studying mission designs that can survive the hellish landscape.

“Earth and Venus are basically sibling planets, but Venus took a turn at one point and became inhospitable to life as we know it,” said Jonathan Sauder, a senior mechatronics engineer at JPL and principal investigator for the Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments (AREE) concept.

“By getting on the ground and exploring Venus, we can understand what caused Earth and Venus to diverge on wildly different paths and can explore a foreign world right in our own backyard,” he said.

Powered by wind, AREE is intended to spend months exploring the Venus landscape. The AREE could collect valuable, long-term longitudinal scientific data. As the rover explores the planet, it must also detect obstacles in its path, such as rocks, crevices and steep terrain.

NASA is crowdsourcing help for that sensor design. The challenge’s winning sensor will be incorporated into the rover concept and could potentially be the mechanism by which a rover detects and navigates around obstructions, according to JPL.

“This is an exciting opportunity for the public to design a component that could one day end up on another celestial body,” said Ryon Stewart, challenge coordinator for the NASA Tournament Lab at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“NASA recognizes that good ideas can come from anywhere and that prize competitions are a great way to engage the public’s interest and ingenuity and make space exploration possible for everyone,” Stewart said. Enditem

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