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NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts

Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments, Phase I (AREE)

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments, Phase I
Venus, with its sulfuric acid clouds, temperatures of over 450', and surface pressure of 92 bar, is one of the most hostile planetary environments in the solar system. Only a handful of Soviet Venera and Vega landers have successfully reached the surface of Venus. Even these robust probes only survived for 23 to 127 minutes before the electronics failed in the hostile environment. However, an entirely mechanical design, utilizing hardened metals could survive, collect, and return valuable long term longitudinal science data from the surface of Venus for weeks, if not months. This science data is critical for informing models of dynamic planetary systems. Automata are a centuries old concept. These unique devices are purely mechanical, self-operating machines capable of performing sequences of operations and instructions. Almost 2,300 years ago the ancient Greeks built the Antikythera automaton. This purely mechanical computer enabled accurate predictions of past and future astronomical events without utilizing any electronics. We propose a paradigm shift by replacing electronics with a fully mechanical systems design to enable exploration of the most extreme environments within the solar system. The specific mission context of Venus is explored in this proposal, but automata are applicable to other extreme environments in the solar system including Mercury, Jupiter's radiation belts, the interiors of gas giants, the mantle of the Earth and volcanoes throughout the solar system. AREE is unexplored as it offers a paradigm shift in spacecraft architecture, yet is still credible as automatons have operated on earth for centuries. It is exciting to think about how a new application of ancient technology could revolutionize the exploration of extreme environments, and allow mankind to unlock the secrets of Venus and other hostile environments across the solar system. More »

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