NASA asks public to design sensors for Venus rover concept

NASA is asking the public to help them explore "hell," as the agency terms it — the roasting surface of the planet Venus.

The cloud-shrouded planet is so socked in that its surface — which is covered in lava flows and possibly active volcanoes — soars to oven-like temperatures of 840 degrees Fahrenheit (450 degrees Celsius). The surface pressure is so great that it would quickly crush a nuclear submarine, according to NASA.

But NASA has plans to deploy a very hardy rover to the surface, and the agency is asking the public to design a sensor to ride on this early-stage conceptual vehicle. Called Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments (AREE), the vehicle will use wind power to spend several months carefully crawling Venus' surface. The vehicle requires the sensor to navigate obstacles in its environment, such as rocks and steep terrain.

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An illustration of a concept for a possible wind-powered Venus rover. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This vehicle is not ready to ship to Venus just yet. AREE is part of NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts program, which studies very nascent technology to make it more ready for the rigors of space exploration. NASA has not yet formally approved the AREE mission for launch, but the agency is hoping the tech will be used someday on the surface of Venus, upon which no spacecraft has landed since 1985. That last mission was the Soviet Union's Vega 2, which like predecessor landers, succumbed within a short while to the extreme environment on Venus' surface.

"Earth and Venus are basically sibling planets, but Venus took a turn at one point and became inhospitable to life as we know it," Jonathan Sauder, principal investigator for AREE at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. "By getting on the ground and exploring Venus, we can understand what caused Earth and Venus to diverge on wildly different paths and can explore a foreign world right in our own backyard."

Another artist's concept of an AREE rover on Venus. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Several prizes will be awarded for sensor concepts; the device must be able to withstand the extreme temperatures and pressures of the surface. One common problem, NASA said, is that state-of-the-art electronics fail at just over 250 F (120 C).

First place for the sensor idea will receive $15,000, with other prizes of $10,000 (for second place) and $5,000 (for third place). Submissions are due by May 29, and NASA will announce the winners in July. More details about sensor submissions and contest eligibility are available at the HeroX crowdsourcing platform, which is hosting the contest on behalf of JPL and the NASA Tournament Lab.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook


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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: