NASA 'Exploring Hell' challenge seeks sensor designs from public

NASA is asking the public to submit sensor design concepts as part of its new 'Exploring Hell: Avoiding Obstacles on a Clockwork Rover' challenge. The sensor would be designed to help a rover avoid obstacles that it may encounter on Venus, a planet with an extreme surface temperature of 840F. The challenge comes from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which recently received a grant under the space agency's Innovative Advanced Concepts program.

NASA may develop a rover for a future Venus mission, the space agency said in an announcement last week. This rover will need to withstand surface pressure 90 times greater than what exists on Earth, as well as extreme surface temperatures, hence the 'Exploring Hell' challenge name. To help put things into perspective, NASA says Venus could easily smash a nuclear submarine or render lead into a puddle.

Past missions to Venus never lasted long — of the missions that managed to touch down on the surface of the planet, they were all quickly destroyed by the intense heat and pressure. For these reasons, the last successful mission to the surface of Venus happened way back in 1985. This may change in the future, though, under new work from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In an announcement on February 21, NASA said that it needs design concepts for a sensor that would enable a future Venus rover to avoid obstacles on the planet's surface. The winning design will be incorporated into NASA's overall Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments (AREE) rover concept, which may one day become an actual machine destined to spend months traveling across Venus.

The challenge is taking place on the HeroX platform; the first-place winner will receive $15,000 for their sensor design, whereas the second-place winner will receive $10,000 and the third-place winner will get $5,000. NASA is accepting submissions for the challenge until May 29. Full details, including requirements and rules, can be found here.