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NASA Investigating the Idea of Sending ‘Windbot’ to Jupiter

posted: 07/23/15
by: Discovery.com Staff
NASA windbot concept
NASA/JPL-Caltech

The first (and only) probe to study Jupiter's atmosphere came to an untimely ending in 1995: after being dropped by the orbiter Galileo, a titanium probe was able to collect data from Jupiter's atmosphere for less than an hour. The probe succumbed to the gas giant's extremely high pressure -- more than 20 times the pressure found on Earth.

For its next Jupiter mission, NASA is getting creative. A team from the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is investigating the feasibility of sending a so-called windbot to study the gas giant.

Unlike rocky planets like Mars, gas giants Jupiter and Saturn don't have a solid surface on which a spacecraft (like the Mars rovers) could land. The proposed windbot takes advantage of the planet's wind energy to keep the spacecraft airborne, as solar and nuclear energy have largely been ruled out.

Related: Will NASA Send a Swimming Robot to Explore the Oceans of Europa?

In designing their prototype windbot, researchers are taking hints from other airborne objects in nature, explains project principal investigator Adrian Stoica:

"A dandelion seed is great at staying airborne. It rotates as it falls, creating lift, which allows it to stay afloat for long time, carried by the wind. We'll be exploring this effect on windbot designs."

For now, the windbots are an interesting concept: there are currently no plans to deploy the experimental spacecraft.

Click here for more information from NASA

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