Venus is colloquially called "Earth twin" because of the similarities it has with our planet. Not surprisingly, however, there are many things that scientists do not know about Venus. Between the hot and hellish landscape, the extremely dense atmosphere and the clouds of sulfur rain, it is virtually impossible to study the atmosphere and surface of the planet. Moreover, the slow rotation of Venus hinders the exploration of its "dark side"
However, these challenges have given rise to a number of innovative research concepts. One comes from the Crashworthiness Laboratory for Aerospace Structures and Hybrids (CRASH) at the University of Buffalo, where researchers create a unique concept known as the BREEZE Bio-inspired Beam for Extreme Environments and Zone Studies.
BREEZE is at the heart of a morphing spacecraft that flutters its wings, similar to how a stubble covers with its breast fins to support lifting into the atmosphere of Venus. The concept is one of 12 revolutionary concepts selected by NASA as part of its Innovative Advanced Concepts Program (NIAC) – which funds innovative projects that are in the early stages of development. and a volcano in the distance. Credit and ©: European Space Agency / J. Whatmore
In much the same way that a strand uses its large fins to swim with ease, BREEZE's design would effectively use strong winds in the upper atmosphere of Venus. The ship will circumnavigate the planet every four to six days and rely on solar panels to reload its instruments. This would happen every two to three days while the vessel was exploring the Sun-lit Venus side.
BREEZE will sample atmospheric samples, track weather patterns, monitor volcanic activity, and collect other Venus environmental data. Its design would make it particularly suitable for exploring the mysterious dark side of Venus. As explained by David Bayandor, Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Project Lead Investigator:
"By taking in hints from nature, in particular sea rays, we are looking for maximum flight efficiency. The design will allow the degree of control achieved so far for such a spacecraft to be subject to strong zonal and meridional winds on the planet. "
The dark side of Venus remains a mystery to scientists because of the way it experiences such long periods of darkness. This is because the rotational period of Venus is longer than the orbital period – i.e. it takes just over 243 days to spin once on its axis and 225 days to complete one orbit of the Sun. As a result, the time required to return the sun to the same place in the sky (sunny day) reaches 116.75 Earth days.
The key is the unique design of the BREEZE morphing wings, which will use an internal tension system to generate traction, provide control and stability, and provide additional lifting and mechanical compression. All this allows for buoyancy control, which allows BREEZE to move through the atmosphere of Venus in the same way that stubble moves on water.
This is especially important since it is just above the dense clouds of Venus, about 50 km (miles) above the surface, that temperatures and air pressures are stable enough to survive a research ship. In fact, some scientists even imagine that it is at these heights that life can be found, most likely in the form of extremophilic organisms capable of living in a hot and acidic environment (also known as thermacidophilus).
This technology may also enable missions in underwater environments here on Earth and other bodies in the Solar System with a dense atmosphere. This is especially true of Titan, Saturn's largest moon and the only other body in the solar system that has a dense atmosphere rich in nitrogen (approximately 1.45 times thicker than Earth). And here space agencies are looking for long-term missions to explore the exotic environment.
This is also one of the many inspired ideas that have been proposed in recent years to explore the atmosphere of Venus. Other concepts such as flying drones developed by Boulder-based Black Swift Technologies (jointly with NASA) and the Venus Aerial Mobil (VAMP) platform currently under investigation by Northrop Grumman.
The next two decades will be an exciting time for space exploration. Whether inspired by floating gliders in the atmosphere of Venus, inspired by dragon drones in Titan's sky, or robots inspired by a snake beneath the surface of Mars, there are several suggested missions to explore exotic and mysterious environments. Much of the credit goes to the designers and engineers who bring their external thinking to the table.
Further reading: University of Buffalo