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Armed with tough computer chips, scientists are ready to return to Venus (sciencemag.org)
147 points by okket 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 20 comments

Europe is also working on returning to Venus. Electronics meant to withstand the conditions on Venus are being developed at KTH in Sweden[1]. They are also Silicon Carbide based [2].

[1] https://www.kth.se/en/forskning/artiklar/elektronik-som-klar...

[2] https://www.lpi.usra.edu/vexag/meetings/archive/vexag_14/pre...

Very interesting article. Does the fact that silicon carbide chips work at more than 700K mean that we could built 3 dimensional chips with that (as internal heating would be much less of an issue). I do not have insights what really limits current silicon chips from exploring vertical stacking more but would have thought that another dimension out-competes several orders of magnitude in structure size differences?

For those interested in a deep technical book on a previous mission (Magellan) to Venus, I would strongly recommend "The Evening Star: Venus Observed", it's wonderful: http://amzn.to/2BgRXGW

Hijacking your comment to plug another good resource that describes the Venus / Venera missions in detail: http://mentallandscape.com/V_Venus.htm

Good old fashioned web page, focused content, no weird js malarky, I love it.

I wonder how they plan to power the devices. Are there chemical batteries that can handle such temperatures?

Is there a way to capture the heat or wind energy on Venus?

There are some kinds of battery that only work at those temperatures - molten salt batteries. Used on earth for a few types of missile and some grid batteries.

The special chips described are silicon carbide; note the caveat of much lower transistor density!

Remember that the Russians managed to get photos of the surface with 1970s technology. One of the main obstacles seems to have been getting the lens caps off the cameras once they'd survived the landing.

> There are some kinds of battery that only work at those temperatures - molten salt batteries. Used on earth for a few types of missile and some grid batteries.

Not an expert in batteries but Wikipedia says molten salt batteries provide high amount of power only for a short period of time:

> Once activated, they provide a burst of high power for a short period (a few tens of seconds to 60 minutes or more), with output ranging from watts to kilowatts.

Source: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molten-salt_battery

Keep reading, until you get into the rechargeable configurations.

Actually I read the rechargeable section but there is no explicit mention there of how quickly does the rechargeable battery provide power. Is this implied that it's not in quick bursts because it's rechargeable? Or maybe I missed something? (I re-read the section again now).

Yes, there is no mention because it's not very different from other technologies.

Molten salt batteries are mostly not practical (who wants to carry around some explosives at boiling water temperature), but the single use cells get some usage because of this feature. Rechargeable ones don't.

And in one instance of incredible bad luck - the soil probe on a Venera lander actually hit the lens cap instead of the soil so it didn't record anything. Out of all places to land, the cap landed exactly where the measuring probe was going to poke.

the wikipedia article has a bit about this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venera#Venera_camera_successes...

> The Venera 9 and 10 landers had two cameras each. Only one functioned because the lens covers failed to separate from the second camera on each lander. The design was changed for Venera 11 and 12, but this change made the problem worse and all cameras failed on those missions. Venera 13 and 14 were the only landers on which all cameras worked properly; although unfortunately, the titanium lens cap on Venera 14 landed precisely on the area which was targeted by the soil compression probe.

Not sure what's the behaviour of the silicon carbide chips (do you know what else is silicon carbide? Grinding disks) at room temperature, but I assume it's probably not great

The basic SiC MOSFET is a commercial technology that works fine at room temperature ( http://www.st.com/en/power-transistors/sic-mosfets.html?quer... , http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/6808516/ ) although I'm having trouble finding examples quoted above 200C. The main terrestrial market for high-temperature electronics is the oil industry - downhole instrumentation.

The SiC handles temperatures > 200C fine. The problem with COTS SiC components is that they use aluminum wire bonds that don't hold up well at those high temperatures[1]. There has been research done to evaluate platinum and palladium wire bonding [2], or Nickel wire bonding [3] as replacements.

[1] http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/1442008/

[2] http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/6542125/

[3] http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/4914761/

For their Venera probes the russians developped a thermopile battery, which were never used but seems to fit quite well on Venus.

Wind energy maybe. I would imagine heat is only useful if you have a temperature gradient somewhere.

The atmospheric super-rotation of Venus kind of implies that (if you could make it survive the conditions) that a kind of "kite" arrangement carrying a wind generator could work.

Potentially solar energy, despite the thick clouds. Also, dependant on the temperature ceiling of the mission, an RTG might be feasible.

Hell is no problem for Science!

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