Space exploration has been one of mankind’s grandest dreams since the beginning of time. Yet, some planets of our solar system are more accessible than others. Exploring the surface of Mars has already yielded results, so scientists are hoping to expand their exploration ambitions. Planets such as Jupiter, though, are tricky, due to their lack of solid surfaces. A gas giant such as Jupiter could be explored with the help of windbots, as its troubled skies would help fuel the robots for large periods of time.
NASA’s concept is daring to say the least, however, it may be just crazy enough to work. This wind-powered drone idea belongs to the space agency’s Innovative Advanced Concepts Program. Scientists hope to develop the technology required to construct so called “windbots”, gadgets capable of using the turbulent winds in Jupiter’s atmosphere for auto-propulsion.
The Jet Propulsion Lab has been working with a budget of $100,000 that it received back in May, to further explore the idea and find suitable solutions for an otherwise sci-fi concept. Engineers have created a dandelion-seed-like model capable of using turbulence in order to drift around the atmosphere.
If the Jet Propulsion Lab is successful in creating a stable and efficient prototype, we could be looking at vast networks of such windbots scouring Jupiter’s skies and gathering valuable data. In fact, scientists could even send such probes to distant planets, such as Saturn, in order to gather information on the planet’s ever-changing weather patterns.
“What we learn about the atmospheres of other planets enriches our understanding of Earth’s own weather and climate,” Adrian Stoica, Jet Propulsion Lab engineer explains.
But in order to achieve this distant dream, the JPL will have to come up with technology that can make the windbots completely self-sufficient in terms of energy. They are currently considering everything from the gas giant’s magnetic field to wind and temperature changes.
Turbulence, it seems, is the safest bet so far. Because of the differing energy gradient, the constant ups and downs generated by turbulence will provide the required variation to harness the energy that the windbots require.