With its sulfuric acid clouds, temperatures over 450°C, and 92 times the surface pressure of Earth, Venus is one of the most hostile planetary environments in the solar system. Prior missions have only survived hours! But an automaton (or clockwork mechanical robot) could solve this problem. By utilizing high-temperature alloys, the clockwork rover would survive for months, allowing it to collect and return valuable long-term science data from the surface of Venus. To learn more about the automaton rover, see this link.
At NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, we are turning this innovative concept into reality under a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) funded study. We’ve been working hard on this project, but we could use YOUR help to address some of our toughest mechanical design challenges! The Mechanical Maker Challenges are a series of challenges seeking to engage YOUR creativity to invent mechanical ways of performing traditionally electrical tasks. Challenges will be released in series, one at a time.
Our Inaugural Challenge: The Mechanical Eye
Currently, there are no cameras or imagers that work for more than a few minutes at Venus temperatures. However, imagery is critical for both informing science and public engagement. In the words of Carl Sagan “It is within our capability to land a rover on Mars that could scan its surroundings, see the most interesting place in its field of view and, by the same time tomorrow, be there. Such a mission would reap enormous scientific benefits, even if there is no life on Mars.
Public interest in such a mission would be sizable. Every day a new set of vistas would arrive on our home television screens.” Similarly, for Venus, imagery on a long duration rover is critical. The driving science goal for the mechanical, clockwork style camera is to take images of rocks and geologic features near the rover. This provides context for any samples obtained so relationships between the sample and the rest of Venus geology can be better understood.
The Challenge: Build a mechanical camera system that:
- Has a field of view of 2 meter x 2 meters at 2.5 meters from the camera (angular field of view about 60 degrees)
- Has a maximum pixel size of 10 mm x 10 mm (minimum resolution of 200 x 200 pixels)
- Converts the image into an electrical or rotational signal. This electrical or rotational signal must be transmitted at least 1 meter to another location, and then used to reconstruct the image.
- Completes the task within 5 hours.