NASA windbots could scan the atmosphere of gas giants such as Jupiter in the future. This is quite an ambitious project alright.
The science of robotics is being used in the plans NASA holds for future times. Especially, windbots may be used to scour the climatic conditions of such gas giants as the planet Jupiter.
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A team of engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has recently started studying the feasibility of creating a windbot which is "a new class of robotic probe designed to stay aloft in a planet's atmosphere for a long time without wings or hot-air balloons" according to NASA.
Among the ambitions that the space exploration agency has in its repertoire may be included water bots that bob on the waves of the ocean and windbots that are carried along with the winds that blow.
Now windbots that will be operable in the gaseous conditions of Jupiter’s nebulous atmosphere are being brainstormed upon in NASA’s research labs. A $100,000 grant funded by NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program has led to the plan being put to some serious testing.
The windbot is essentially a probe that stays aloft in a gas giant’s climate without the aid of wings or parachute-like devices. In the future these contraptions could even be used to trap energy and transfer it later on to storage facilities.
Thus we could have a brand new source of cheap and limitless power. And although this whole project is not feasible at present, it is a very likely occurrence in the times to come.
Planets such as Mars may have solid surfaces but other far off planets such as Jupiter and Saturn have gaseous structures. For their exploration, windbots are the ideal probe choice. In the mid-90s, a NASA spacecraft had a conventional probe descend into the misty atmosphere of Jupiter and the consequences were disastrous.
The probe withstood the stress and strain as well as high temperatures for 60 minutes before disintegrating completely. In contrast to this a windbot could survive since it has rotors on its sides which keepl it afloat in the foggy clime.
The ideal example from Nature is a dandelion seed. It manages to stay airborne via its structural-functional properties. The very design and mechanics of this natural object of propagation are such that it remains up in the air until the time when its mission is fulfilled.
Adrian Stoica, principal investigator for the windbots study at JPL, said: a dandelion seed. "A dandelion seed is great at staying airborne. 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."
Many of the surrounding conditions of the windbot probe may allow for energy conservation and energy storage. In the same manner as some modern watches can be recharged via the movements of the wrist, the windbot could gather power generated by the atmospheric phenomena.
"There are lots of things we don't know," Stoica said. "Does a windbot need to be 10 meters in diameter or 100? How much lift do we need from the winds in order to keep a windbot aloft?"
"One could imagine a network of windbots existing for quite a long time on Jupiter or Saturn, sending information about ever-changing weather patterns," he said. "And, of course, what we learn about the atmospheres of other planets enriches our understanding of Earth's own weather and climate."
There still exist tons of issues that need to be ironed out before the probe could smoothly float in Jupiter’s chaotic climate. In fact, a bunch of such windbots could be employed by NASA in its future energy harvesting missions.
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"We don't yet know if this idea is truly feasible. We'll do the research to try and find out," he said. "But it pushes us to find other ways of approaching the problem, and that kind of thinking is extremely valuable."