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Stingray-shaped probes can explore Venus's atmosphere

Researchers with the University of Buffalo are working on a conceptual design that would see a changed aircraft explore the sky above Venus, including its elusive "dark side."

It's called BREEZE, or Bio-inspired Ray for Extreme Environments and Zonal Explorations. Like a stingray that travels through water with its breast fins, this morphing probe would fold its wings during the flight and stay high at altitudes approaching 50 kilometers (31 miles). BREEZE was equipped with a variety of instruments and powered by the powerful winds of the planet and would sniff out out atmospheric gases, chase volcanic activity and even investigate Venus so-called dark side, according to a press release from the university.

At least, this is the vision described by researchers from the Crashworthiness for Aerospace Structures and Hybrids (CRASH) Laboratory . BREEZE is currently one of 1

8 proposals being considered by NASA during its Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, of which six have Phase II degrees. NASA awarded the CRASH laboratory a $ 125,000 Phase I award earlier this year to further develop its idea. Success in this nine-month year may involve degree for phase II and additional funding from the space agency.

An aircraft for studying Venus is very meaningful. Designing a rover seems almost impossible, as the surface temperature can exceed 470 degrees Celsius (880 degrees Fahrenheit). In addition, some of the most interesting things on this planet are in the atmosphere, including a massive arc-like structure that extends over nearly 10 000 kilometers (6, 20 0 miles).

Because BREEZE has inflatable components, it can be packed tightly inside a larger input module and then distributed in the Venus atmosphere, Javid Bayandor, Head of CRASH Lab and Associate Professor of Mechanics and Space Engineering at UB's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, said in an email to Gizmodo. A system of traction cables would enable a generous degree of controllability, including thrust, stability, lifting and buoyancy of the aircraft.

BREEZE is designed to take advantage of high winds in the turbulent upper atmosphere of Venus . The probe should be able to travel around the planet once every four to six days, as it hovers under the main cloud layer. Solar panels would allow the probe to charge its instruments, including units to test gases in the atmosphere, track the weather and hunt for volcanic activity on the surface. Ideally, BREEZE would perform mass and gamma spectroscopy, perform magnetic field traces, and take ultraviolet measurements, according to Bayandor.

BREEZE "is being developed for atmospheric sampling at and above 50 km altitude," Bayandor said, but the system will "test at lower altitudes toward the end of its mission." The CRASH team envisions several BREEZE vessels flying at the same time to discard a wide scientific network and gather redundant data for further verification.

An important advantage of the BREEZE design is that it should be able to drive the zone winds to the dark side of the planet, while balloons, for example, would only drive to the polar regions, according to the researchers . Venus is not early locked as our moon, in which a hemisphere is constantly facing the Earth, but it has a really slow spinning frequency. A single day on Venus lasts 243 Earth days, which means that a large part of the planet is in the dark for extended periods. Bayandor and his colleagues would very much like to know what happens to the atmosphere of Venus during this extended night.

As for potential risks, BREEZE will have to contend with Venus's corrosive atmosphere (containing sulfuric acid), severe winds reaching 360 kilometers per hour (224 miles per hour), and power-c among other difficulties. In the end, however, Bayandor said that this "specific mission will be a relatively low to moderate risk with high rewards."

BREEZE sounds like an exciting concept, and it's time for us to pay a little more attention to this exciting planet. NASA is scheduled to make its decision on the future of the program in the coming months, and we will look closely.

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