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PSI’S Eldar Noe Dobrea Selected for Initial Funding for Aircraft to Explore Venus

eldar's venus aircraft

A depiction depicting the Heat Exchange-Driven Aircraft for Low Altitude and Surface Exploration of Venus. Credit: Eldar Noe Dobrea


A project proposed by PSI’s Eldar Noe Dobrea for an aircraft for low-altitude and surface exploration of Venus has been selected for funding by NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program. The NIAC Phase 1 funding of $125,000 over a nine month period will allow Noe Dobrea’s team to explore the overall viability of his project and develop it into a mission concept.  Investigation will be performed in collaboration with Stanford University and with  aerospace engineers previously involved in the development of Mars airplanes. 

The project calls for development of a system capable of using the heat from the Venusian atmosphere to power a heat engine capable of supplying propulsion and power to the fixed-wing aircraft as it flies in close proximity to the surface of Venus in a cyclic manner. In this mission concept, the aircraft descends rapidly to near the surface from about 40 kilometers in altitude and cruises in controlled flight in proximity to the surface while heat from the atmosphere is absorbed into a heat sink material inside the aircraft. After the heat sink comes into thermal equilibrium with the surrounding air, the aircraft then uses stored energy to quickly climb to a higher altitude where it exchanges the energy in the sink through an onboard heat engine (e.g., a Stirling engine) to the cooler outside air. The energy converted by the heat engine is stored in the aircraft in batteries which provide power for propulsion, operation of scientific instruments and communication. After the aircraft comes into thermal equilibrium with the outside air, it is ready to again dive to low altitude and then repeat this cycle multiple times. 

 Instead of some sort of fuel or solar power, we will be deriving our energy directly from the Venusian atmosphere, which is quite a novel concept in the planetary exploration,” said Noe Dobrea, a Senior Scientist at PSI. “If we can demonstrate its feasibility during this phase of the project, this design will open the doors for the direct exploration of the Venusian surface and lower atmosphere.  Given that we only need to travel at 2 miles per hour to become airborne near the surface of Venus, we might even be able to perform multiple landings and takeoffs for in-situ analyses.”


May 17, 2020
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