University at Buffalo – The State University of New York
The Bio-inspired Ray for Extreme Environments and Zonal Exploration (BREEZE) combines inflatable structures with bio-inspired kinematics to create a highly efficient flier to explore the Venus atmosphere. This flier would take data while below the main cloud
layer at approximately 50 km and re-charge using solar panels in the middle atmosphere at approximately 60+ km. Tensioning cables would control the volume to allow the craft to rise and fall in the atmosphere. The bio-inspired kinematics will maximize flight efficiency while allowing a so-far unattained degree of control for a small inflatable flier in the upper atmosphere of Venus. Furthermore, the active buoyancy control allows the flier to vary height more efficiently than existing gliding concepts. Multiple BREEZE concepts can be flown to provide more complete surface mapping-via larger field of view, and sampling redundancy and verification. BREEZE will ride on the zonal winds creating an opportunity to sample data on the dark side of Venus where many other fliers cannot go and balloons begin to drift towards polar regions.
At BREEZE’s operational altitudes, the wind can circumnavigate the planet roughly every 4-6 days. This provides 2-3 days on the day side for charging. The flier will be able to coast on the high winds as they carry the flier around the planet. As BREEZE circumnavigates the planet, it can perform various atmospheric studies as well as track weather patterns, atmospheric constituents, and active volcanic investigations. Additionally, at lower altitudes the flier can survey the surface to increase the resolution of surface maps, thus preparing the way for future missions to the Venusian surface. In order to accomplish these objectives, the payload of BREEZE will include a mass spectrometer, nephelometer, visible and near-infrared high resolution cameras, magnetometer, and anemometer, as well as sensors for measuring atmospheric pressure, temperature, and density, among others.
Unlike other proposed Venus fliers, this concept is a tension based system which allows for the removal of most rigid support structures other than those needed for the payload. This will allow the vehicle to be highly compact and housed in small entry vehicles. The internal tensioning system is inspired by the wing-warping design of the original Wright flier, but BREEZE takes wing warping to
a new level by using it to achieve biomimetic locomotion. A network of tensioning cables are used to actuate the pectoral and pelvic fins (equivalent to wings and horizontal stabilizers of a fixed wing aircraft, respectively). They will furnish articulated flapping flight for achieving thrust, control, stability, and additional lift. Furthermore, the same tensioning network may be used to provide the mechanical compression required for active buoyancy control. This makes BREEZE an ideal alternate approach to the Venus Climate Mission presented in the 2013-2022 Planetary Science Decadal survey.
In addition to Venus, BREEZE can be applied to other celestial bodies with a sufficiently high density atmosphere such as Titan or even Earth. This is a major advantage as it is easily testable in Earth’s atmosphere, lowering associated risk. The control methodologies developed while working on the BREEZE concept need not only be applied to ray inspired airships, but could also be applied to ray
inspired robots meant to navigate liquid environments. Ultimately, the robustness of the baseline concepts and technologies make BREEZE a low cost – low risk endeavor that promises to further fulfill NASA’s main objective of space exploration.