Although it’s common knowledge that NASA has been aggressively studying Mars, recent news has revealed that the space agency is also interested in sending drones to assist in the study of Venus.
A contract was awarded to Colorado-based Black Swift Technologies, a company that specializes in unmanned aerial systems (UAS), to build a drone capable of surviving in Venus’ upper atmosphere.
“They’re looking for vehicles to explore just above the cloud layer. The pressure and temperatures are similar to what you’d find on Earth, so it could be a good environment for looking for evidence of life,” said Jack Elston, company CEO.
The task will not be easy. The winds in the planet’s upper atmosphere are incredibly strong, which makes for a challenge when conceptualizing designs. In addition, the planet’s atmosphere is affected by a phenomenon called super-rotation, which accelerates winds to speeds up to 360 km/h.
The company will have to create a drone that can make use of the strong winds to keep it in the air, while reducing the amount of power required.
“Our solution will be designed to not only survive in the harsh wind environment, but also simultaneously perform targeted sampling of the atmosphere while continuously extracting energy, even on the darks side of the planet,” said Elston.
NASA’s recent interest in the Morning Star comes from models that have indicated that the planet may have once had liquid water on its surface, likely in the form of a shallow ocean.
Furthermore, a recent study has suggested the clouds above the planet’s surface could hold microbial life. That’s a strong motivator to get drones in the air and sampling from the atmosphere to determine if there is any life, or indications of the planet’s past surface water.
NASA has awarded the company an initial six-month contract to design the drone.
This is not the first time the two organizations have worked together. In 2017, Black Swift was given a contract worth $875,000 to build a drone that could monitor winds and gas and pressure levels inside Costa Rican volcanoes.