Flying in the atmosphere of Venus
Venus is Earth's next-closest neighbor, similarity in size, mass and gravity. Earth’s twin may have had a shallow ocean and livable surface conditions during 2 billion years of its early existence. Venus does not have a magnetic field, which is why its atmosphere is unprotected against solar winds. The solar wind hits Venus upper atmosphere and carries off particles into space. It is believed that the planet has been losing its water for millions of years since it's birth. Over the millennia Venus has turned its surface into a hot and inhospitable place.
Although the severity of the environment on Venus’ surface presents an enormous challenge for exploration rovers, in altitudes that range from 50km to 65km, the temperatures of the Venusian atmosphere are below 77 degrees Celsius, thus allowing the presence of flying robots, also known as aerobots. Among the solutions for the challenging exploration of Venus are the hybrid aerobots, which are balloon-based robotic vehicles that rely on buoyancy, aerodynamic lift and thrust to control their altitude and lateral position.
Motion planning is important from the scientific point of view, allowing the mission control to position the vehicles in specific latitudes, altitudes, and spatial distribution, and is fundamental to allow extended mission times, keeping the vehicles in a safe region (in terms of temperature and pressure) of the atmosphere.
The goal of this proposed project is to develop a motion planning algorithm for a hybrid aerobot that aims for the maximization of the vehicles lifetime. Both during the day and night, the motion planner will exploit the natural wind flow in the atmosphere, and in a combination of gliding, soaring, and powered flight, will maintain the vehicle’s altitude at a safe level while controlling its spatial position, as required by the science task.
- WVU engineers creating software for aerobots to explore Venus, WVU Today, December, 2021