US space agency NASA has finally built electronics that are capable of withstanding hard temperature and pressure conditions akin to those found on surface of the planet Venus for days paving way for longer future missions to the planet.

Given the current electronics scientists have at their disposal, Venus lander missions wouldn’t last long as the surface conditions on the planet are so intense that they would fry up the circuitry within minutes without adequate protection. The way around this is to build thermal and pressure-resistant vessels to house the electronics, but they don’t last long either and get damaged in hours thereby not only limiting the duration of the mission, but also adding millions to the overall cost that doesn’t yield the desired results.

NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland recently published a paper in a peer-reviewed journal AIP Advances wherein scientists have revealed test results of new electronics developed at the agency. Results indicate that these silicon carbide integrated circuits can operate for hundreds of hours in in Venus surface atmospheric conditions thereby opening up the possibilities of prolonged missions on Venus.

The Glenn team developed and implemented extremely durable silicon carbide semiconductor integrated circuits and they tested two of these integrated circuits in the Glenn Extreme Environments Rig (GEER), which can precisely simulate the conditions expected on Venus’ surface. The circuits withstood the Venus surface temperature and atmospheric conditions for 521 hours – operating more than 100 times longer than previously demonstrated Venus mission electronics.

Electronic Circuits
Integrated circuit before testing in Venus atmospheric conditions. Credit: NASA

“This represents more than 100-fold extension of demonstrated Venus environment electronics durability. With further technology maturation, such SiC IC electronics could drastically improve Venus lander designs and mission concepts, fundamentally enabling long-duration enhanced missions to the surface of Venus”, scientists note in the study.

Earlier this year, the team demonstrated nearly identical silicon carbide integrated circuits for more than 1,000 hours at 900 degrees Fahrenheit in Earth-atmosphere oven testing. The integrated circuits were originally designed to operate in hot regions of fuel-efficient aircraft engines.

“This work not only enables the potential for new science in extended Venus surface and other planetary exploration, but it also has potentially significant impact for a range of Earth relevant applications, such as in aircraft engines to enable new capabilities, improve operations, and reduce emissions,” said Gary Hunter, principle investigator for Venus surface electronics development.


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