The Extreme Environments work enables Stirling based power and cooling systems to operate in environments that other power systems could not tolerate. One such environment, the surface of Venus, has a temperature of 932 ˚F, a pressure of 1350 psi, and an atmosphere of mostly Carbon Dioxide with traces of several acids. The last Venus surface mission was Venera 13, in 1984, and it lasted only 127 minutes before succumbing to the environment. Current technology (batteries and phase change material for cooling) will enable a lander to survive for at most 10 hours.
By combining a Stirling power convertor with a Stirling cooler, electronics may be actively cooled and powered, leading to a proposed mission life of 243 days. Efficiency of the Stirling engine is raised with the development of new materials which enable a hot end temperature far in excess of existing systems. Such a system (with or without the cooler) could be used in many environments in which other power sources would not survive, or be as efficient.
In order to demonstrate this technology, and develop other technologies needed for a long term mission, the Extreme Environment Test Chamber was created. While other “Venus like” chambers do exist, this system has an unparalleled size with a 3’ diameter and 4’ length, and can mix its own atmospheres including all of the trace acids on Venus. This capability allows researchers to recreate conditions at any altitude on Venus as well as environments elsewhere in the solar system.
- Venus Flagship Mission Study: Exploring a World of Contrasts (NASA Solar System website)
- Extreme Environments Rig at NASA Glenn Research Center