Researchers from the University of Buffalo have designed a spacecraft that is shaped like a stingray that may one day explore Venus. The spacecraft was designed as part of the Bio-inspired Ray for Extreme Environments and Zonal Explorations or BREEZE project. NASA selected the spacecraft as one of the 12 finalists for the NAIC program that is designed to support new technologies.
The spacecraft that the researchers have developed would travel in part by flapping its wings, which are modeled after the pectoral fins on a stingray. The idea is to allow the spacecraft to move through the turbulent upper atmosphere of Venus by flapping its wings. The team designed those flapping fins to make the spacecraft easy to control in the upper atmosphere.
Design cues were taken from sea rays to help maximize flight efficiency for the spacecraft. The design allows for “so-far unattained” degrees of control for spacecraft that are subject to severe zonal and meridional winds of Venus. BREEZE is designed to circumvent Venes every four or five days and will gather power from solar panels that will charge when it’s on the side of the planet in the sunlight.
Using specialized instruments onboard the spacecraft, it will also take samples of the atmosphere of the planet, monitor and track weather patterns, and look for volcanic activity. Venus is unique because of slow rotation, so the spacecraft has to be able to operate for an extended time with no sunlight. The flexible design would allow the spacecraft operators to adjust lift and thrust, and mechanical compression to keep the spacecraft aloft around the planet.
Venus is a challenging environment to work in with surface temperatures close to 900 degrees Fahrenheit and thick clouds of sulfuric acid. The spacecraft design could also one day be used for exploring other places, such as exploring Saturn’s moon Titan.