With its sulfuric acid clouds, temperatures over 450°C, and 92 times the surface pressure of Earth, Venus is one of the most hostile planetary environments in the solar system. Only a handful of Soviet Venera and Vega landers and a Pioneer probe have successfully reached the surface. Even the most robust of these landers survived for only 127 minutes before the electronics failed in the hostile environment. A potential solution to comes from a 16th century technology. The automaton is a mechanical device capable of performing a series of complex actions to achieve a specific result, or a mechanical robot. The Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments, would replace vulnerable electronic systems with a mechanical design. By utilizing high temperature alloys, the rover would survive for months, allowing it to collect and return valuable long-term science data from the surface of Venus. This science data would be critical for informing and improving models of dynamic planetary systems. To implement AREE, “steampunk” science fiction meets spacecraft technology, in a unique rover that must be robust and able to operate during its entire mission without human intervention.
Dr. Jonathan Sauder is a mechatronics engineer at Jet Propulsion Laboratory and charter member in the Technology Infusion Group, which seeks to bridge the TRL “Valley of Death” for innovative, promising technology concepts. Jonathan focuses on developing unique and innovative mechanical systems, many of which are related to deployable antennas and sunshades, by taking concepts from ideation to verification by testing. Jonathan is the Principle Investigator of the NIAC study “Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments”, which explores how to enable a long duration Venus rover using mechanical technology. He is also currently the Mechanical Engineering Lead on the RainCube Spacecraft, and the Principle Investigator on two deployable antenna research projects. He completed a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering in 2013 focusing on how collaboration aids engineers in creating innovative designs.
Evan Hilgemann is a mechanical engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. His diverse job responsibilities range from developing novel technologies for space applications to mature flight system design. Evan was the lead mechanical engineer for a meter scale deployable CubeSat antenna and currently contributes to other large deployable systems including the SWOT earth orbiting satellite and StarShade occulter. His technology interests lie primarily in the areas of large deployable structures, rapid prototyping, and robotics. Evan earned an M.S. degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Michigan and a B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.