Skip to main content

NASA is close to making computers that can survive on Venus

nasa creates computer that can survive venus
One day, mankind will jump into spaceships and explore the solar system, and eventually the galaxy and beyond. All that stands in our way so far is a deficit in technology. Until that’s licked, however, we’ll be sending machines in our place. And most of the places we want to explore are rather hard on the computers that enable those machines to function.

High temperatures, caustic environments, and extreme pressures tend to cause problems for computers, and that’s something that NASA is close to solving for one of our solar system’s harshest environments, Venus.

As researchers at NASA’s John H. Glenn Research Center point out in a new paper, Venus has made it impossible for computers to survive for long on its surface due to temperatures exceeding 460 degrees C and pressures exceeding 9.4 MPa. Such an environment is particularly hard on integrated circuits (ICs), limiting the time that a Venus lander can function on the surface to only a few hours even with relatively massive cooling and pressure solutions.

In order to make a trip to Venus valuable, however, landers need to be able to survive for a prolonged period. Long-term atmospheric and seismic activity data is what’s needed on such a trip, to answer a variety of questions about how Earth and other planets in the solar system were formed, and that kind of data takes weeks and months, not hours, to gather.

And it’s not just pressure and high temperatures that are the problem. There’s also the sulfuric acid in the clouds and on the surface that are of concern. Simply put, today’s interconnections between chips simply can’t handle the environment, and of course today’s computers are multi-chip affairs.

NASA Glenn
NASA Glenn

In response, the NASA Glenn researchers have created ICs with ceramic packaging that have lasted for more than 40 days at 500 degrees C. After further tests intended to simulate the Venus environment were conducted, it was confirmed that the new designs and materials were able to survive for far longer than previous versions — indicating that it’s possible to make computers that can last for multiple days and weeks even in such a harsh environment.

The paper is full of the kinds of technical details only a rocket scientist would appreciate, and if that’s you then by all means delve into its fascinating facts and figures. For the rest of us, it’s enough to know that NASA is succeeding in creating computers that can survive on Venus, making a long-term mission on that planet a less remote possibility.

Editors' Recommendations

Mark Coppock
Mark has been a geek since MS-DOS gave way to Windows and the PalmPilot was a thing. He’s translated his love for…
Watch NASA drop capsule from 1,200 feet to test Mars Sample Return system
Mars Sample Return drop test.

NASA has an ambitious plan to bring a piece of Mars back to Earth for study. Called the Mars Sample Return mission, the idea is to send a robotic team consisting of a lander, rover, and an ascent vehicle to the red planet to pick up samples being collected and sealed in tubes by the Perseverance rover. These samples will then be launched off the Martian surface and into orbit, where they'll be collected and brought back to Earth.

MSR EES MDU Drop: Side by Side

Read more
Moon, Mars, and more: NASA extends 8 planetary missions
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

NASA has decided to extend a range of active planetary science missions, a move that’s certain to delight scientists attached to the projects.

The space agency said the spacecraft -- the oldest of which launched more than 20 years ago -- had been selected to continue their operations because of their “scientific productivity and potential to deepen our knowledge and understanding of the solar system and beyond.”

Read more
Watch the splashdown of NASA’s first private ISS mission
watch the splashdown of nasas first private iss mission ax 1 homecoming

NASA’s first private mission to the International Space Station has ended successfully after the four-person crew splashed down in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule off the coast of Florida.

The four Ax-1 crewmembers -- Canadian investor and philanthropist Mark Pathy, American entrepreneur Larry Connor, former Israeli Air Force pilot Eytan Stibbe, and former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría -- came down in the Atlantic Ocean near Jacksonville, Florida, at 1:06 p.m. ET (10:06 p.m. PT) on Monday, April 25.

Read more