A team of NASA scientists are looking into what is the requirement to build a robot that could stay aloft on a distant world, studying alien atmospheres.
The ‘windbot’ could be able to explore the planets such as Jupiter and Saturn, huge gas giants which sometimes don’t even have a surface to land on.
This theoretical spacecraft would be able to investigate the atmosphere of these planets while staying airborne for a significant period of time.
“A dandelion seed is great at staying airborne,” Adrian Stoica, principal investigator for the windbots study, said in a statement.
“It rotates as it falls, creating lift, which allows it to stay afloat for long time, carried by the wind. We’ll be exploring this effect on windbot designs.”
Scientists aim to design a windbot which will fly through the atmospheres of planets without the use of hot-air balloon or wings. The spacecraft would likely need to harvest energy from its environment, NASA said.
“It’s possible that the probe’s energy source will not be from a star. The windbot may need to use nuclear power to keep it aloft, but it could also use a gas giant’s magnetic field, winds or temperature fluctuations,” NASA added.
Stoica and the team think that turbulence might be the best source of energy. According to NASA, the windbot would require high wind velocity as well as variability in intensity in order to produce its own energy from the complicated environment.
“One could imagine a network of windbots existing for quite a long time on Jupiter or Saturn, sending information about ever-changing weather patterns,” Stoica said.
“And, of course, what we learn about the atmospheres of other planets enriches our understanding of Earth’s own weather and climate.”‘
It’s possible that windbots could be used on Earth to study hurricanes and other weather events, NASA said.
While the craft could be a boon for planetary exploration, it may also have its drawbacks.
Since the windbot is at the mercy of the turbulence in the atmosphere, it might not be able to explore specific, interesting things because of their locations. Certain parts of the atmosphere in the planet might not be as favorable for the probe, keeping it from investigating those parts on the planet.
The scientists who found discovered the concept of windbot were given an award of 100,000 dollars to explore the concept as part of the NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts Program. Under this study, the scientists will work to suss out the viability of the windbot plan.
“We don’t yet know if this idea is truly feasible. We’ll do the research to try and find out,” Stoica said.
“But it pushes us to find other ways of approaching the problem, and that kind of thinking is extremely valuable.”