Drifting 'Windbots' May be Launched on Jupiter Mission by NASA

First Posted: Jul 23, 2015 05:32 PM EDT

NASA may be sending a "windbot" to Jupiter. As part of the space agency's Innovative Advanced Concepts Program, the Jet Propulsion Lab is looking to use a robot to harness the power of Jupiter's winds and stay airborne without the need for fuel.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory was awarded $100,000 to carry out a feasibility study on the concept, which would theoretically allow astronomers to better understand the atmospheres of the solar system's gas giants.

"One could imagine a network of windbots existing for quite a long time on Jupiter or Saturn, sending information about ever-changing weather patterns," said Adrian Stoica, JPL engineer, in an interview with Wired. "And, of course, what we learn about the atmospheres of other planets enriches our understanding of Earth's own weather and climate."

The robots would essentially be able to harvest turbulent wind energy in order to explore giant gas planets. In theory, the new robots would open new avenues for in-situ atmospheric science missions with high-mobility explorers.

With that said, turbulence is the key to this mission. A constant high wind velocity is useless. However, the constant ups and downs of turbulence provide a variation in energy that can then be harvested by the robots.

The robot would bob at a safe height, using rotors on its surface to spin upward or in any direction. With that said, it will be quite some time before these robots actually make it to Saturn. Scientists are still working on the project and while it's funded, it'll be years before it comes to fruition.


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