Among designers of robotic probes to explore the planets, there is certainly no shortage of clever ideas.
There are concepts for robots that are propelled by waves in the sea. There are ideas for tumbleweed bots driven by wind, rolling across Antarctica or Mars.
Recently a team of engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, wondered if a probe could be buoyant in the clouds of Earth or a distant gas giant planet, like Jupiter.
That team has recently begun studying their question, thanks to a one-year, $100,000 study, funded by NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.
They’re investigating the feasibility of creating a windbot, a new class of robotic probe designed to stay aloft in a planet’s atmosphere for a long time without wings or hot-air balloons.
The NASA-funded study will systematically investigate how future spacecraft of this kind could stay airborne and harvest energy.