Experts have proven that Venus is one of the most inhospitable planets. Due to its surface temperature of 470°C (878°F), and atmospheric pressure, which is about 90 times that of Earth, as well as its 900 metres deep water, the list goes on why no human can ever survive living on this planet. However, bright minds have created a computer that could bear the extreme environment conditions of Venus.
The new SiC chip designed by NASA Glenn, before and after it's been in GEER (c) arstechnica.co.uk
Back in 1981, the Soviet spacecraft Venera 13 landed on Venus. The rover only lasted for 127 minutes before it was cooked, crushed, and dissolved by its environs. Despite that, the first colored images Venera 13 successfully took was still one of the great achievements of humanity.
After spacecrafts Venera 14, Vega 1, Vega 2 followed the first expedition, no rover yet landed Venus since 1985. One of the reasons is because normal digital computers don't really work there.
Standard silicon chips can hang in to around 250°C, but eventually there's just so much energy in the system that the silicon stops being a semiconductor. Electrons can then freely jump the bandgap, and everything stops working.
However, growing technology led to maturation of semiconductor silicon carbide (SiC). SiC now can support very high voltages and temperatures, and is a very suitable candidate for computing on Venus, too.
Fortunately, researchers from NASA's Glenn Research Centre might have deciphered the code to the huge problem with high-temperature integrated circuits. They've developed interconnects, which are tiny wires that connect transistors and other integrated components together, so it can survive the extreme conditions on Venus.
When the soviets photographed the surface of venus (c) youtube.com
To create a ceramic-packaged chip, the experts combined the new interconnects with some SiC transistors. The chip was then placed into the GEER
(Glenn Extreme Environments Rig). This machine can endure Venus-like environment with its simple 3-stage oscillator, functioning at a steady 1.26MHz for 521 hours before the GEER shuts down.
The researchers said it is the first computer chip demonstration that can operate in Venus-like conditions for many weeks without the need of a pressure vessel, cooling system, or other means of protection.
"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," the researchers told Arstechnica.
Though particular mechanical engineering of the Venus lander would still be difficult today, NASA Glenn expects that the land-sailing rover could be ready by 2023.