The average temperature on Venus is 864 degrees Fahrenheit (462 degrees Celsius).
No computer can survive more than 127 minutes there, it’s like hell.
But now, NASA Has Finally Built a Computer Chip To Survive on Venus.
NASA researchers developed a new computer chip and tested it without any cooling or protective packaging in a high-pressure, high-temperature environment like the surface of Venus, and it worked. Scientists haven’t sent a lander to Venus since the Soviets flew three more crafts to Venus — Venera 14, Vega 1, and Vega 2 — making the last attempted landing on the planet in 1985.
Philip Neudeck, electronics engineer from the NASA Glenn Research Center in Ohio said that there are rovers over Mars getting all sorts scientific data, which is not the case on Venus because the electronics don’t function there and the planet has lots of features of interest to us Earthlings.
Neudeck explained that the most important challenges for a chip on Venus to overcome are the temperature and chemically-reactive atmosphere. Most chips are made out of silicon, but at high temperatures it starts behaving like a regular conductor instead of a semiconductor. His chips are silicon carbide instead, which maintain their good semiconducting properties. The team also ensured the wires connecting all of the pieces of the chip wouldn’t fry by using exotic materials like tantalum silicide, among other challenges.
To see if the technology lives up to expectations, the team put these SiC transistors and interconnects together and housed them in ceramic-packed chips. The chips were then placed in the GEER (Glenn Extreme Environments Rig) which can simulate the temperatures and pressures on Venus for hundreds of hours at a time.
But it’s not only transistors we’ll need for a successful Venus rover. Drills, cameras, wheels — everything has to be adapted to work in a high pressure, high temperature, highly acidic environment. Materials science has evolved a long way since the last missions, so creating a mechanically-sound lander should be feasible. A full-fledged rover with multiple moving parts that can survive on Venus would be a lot harder to develop — NASA Glenn is working on such a machine, a land-sailing rover, which they estimate will be ready by 2033.
The full paper “Prolonged silicon carbide integrated circuit operation in Venus surface atmospheric conditions” has been published in the journal AIP Advances.