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Previous story Robotic balloons to explore Venus? An Oregon company is working on it Next story
  Tillamook in the news with NASA space administration   Robotic balloons on Venus  


Story By Tom Banse (Northwest News Network) - Story Source
Published on -

 
TILLAMOOK, Oregon - The space agency NASA has chosen a small Tillamook-based aerospace company to design and test robotic balloons for future scientific exploration of Venus. Near Space Corporation is working on the Venus project with some of the same NASA team members currently managing a historic helicopter drone flight on Mars.

Near Space CEO Tim Lachenmeier said his company hopes to test fly a Venus exploration balloon prototype here on Earth in early fall. In an interview Friday, Lachenmeier said the harsh operating environment of Venus presents a difficult, but fascinating technical challenge.

"Venus has a very hostile atmosphere," Lachenmeier said, noting the threat of corrosion from sulfuric acid in Venus's thick clouds alongside hot temperatures. "Most things you would build balloons out of would deteriorate in a hurry."

"There's this battle between how robust you make it," Lachenmeier said. "If it is too robust it won't fly. So, you have to kind of finesse the actual design."

Space probes previously sent to the inhospitable surface of our nearest planetary neighbor have measured hellishly hot conditions before failing in short order. Thus, the attraction of attaching sensors to a "smart," Teflon-coated aerial platform that could float and ride on the winds in the relatively balmy upper atmosphere of Venus.

"There is no commissioned mission for a balloon at Venus yet, but balloons are a great way to explore Venus because the atmosphere is so thick and the surface is so harsh," Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer Siddharth Krishnamoorthy said in a NASA web post. "The balloon is like the sweet spot, where you're close enough to get a lot of important stuff out, but you're also in a much more benign environment where your sensors can actually last long enough to give you something meaningful."