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Designing Electronics for the Harsh Environment of Venus

The Venus Landsailing Rover, depicted above, would need to be able to work in very hot, high pressure, corrosive conditions. (Photo credit: NASA.)
The Venus Landsailing Rover, depicted above, would need to be able to work in very hot, high pressure, corrosive conditions. (Photo credit: NASA.)

Researchers from KTH Royal Institute of Technology are working on electronics able to handle the extremely high temperatures of Venus. The electronics are based on silicon carbide, a semiconductor that can withstand the extremely harsh climate of the second planet from the sun.

“There are some places in space where the temperature is very high, such as the surface of Venus, where the temperature is 460 degrees Celsius,” says Carl Mikael Zetterling, professor of solid state electronics at KTH, and one of the researchers on the project. “But there are also places around the moons of Jupiter and Mercury, where the environments are really tough and where a powerful semiconductor such as silicon carbide can also be used.”

The space researchers, who may use the new Venus landsailing rover robot, want to find out is how the climate works on Venus, which in turn may provide explanations for the Earth’s climate. But Zetterling says there is one more point to take into consideration with silicon carbide in space research. Major space missions have proven fruitful for microelectronics.

“You could say that microelectronics has much to thank NASA and the Apollo projects for. These were some of the first customers to use silicon in integrated circuits. It is something that helped to get this industry going,” he says.

Zetterling believes that this focus on electronics for a new Venus lander robot will give a boost to the silicon carbide ahead. He notes that it is difficult to obtain funds for research in microelectronics. But demonstrating the technique on Venus increases the possibilities to show silicon carbide’s potential.

“The Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, which funds the project, wish to see something that really makes an impression, something that makes an impact. And to show something that works on Venus certainly meets that objective. But I see applications on Earth as being much more important,” he says.

The Venus project would be the first time that silicon carbide is used in a high temperature application. However, the material has been used in high-voltage applications for at least a decade, such as for the conversion of solar energy into electrical energy.

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