Exploring planet Venus has been always an interesting subject for mankind.
Improving understanding of Venus and its greenhouse effect atmosphere and geology has relevance to a better understanding of the Earth and solar system formation. High Temperature Electronics play a vital role in missions to Venus. These technologies are still being developed for Venus planetary exploration applications. Given the previous lack of electronics that could collect and transmit scientific data in Venus’s +450°C lower-atmosphere, almost all proposed missions to explore this important planetary environment were based on very limited duration. In the past, few landers have been sent to the surface of Venus but due to the lack of high temperature electronic components and old technology, they didn’t survive more than almost 2 hours.
The recent generation of wide bandgap semiconductors, including silicon carbide (SiC), diamond, and gallium nitride (GaN), has enabled short-term electrical device demonstrations at temperatures from 500°C to 650°C. Until now however, these wide bandgap devices have given only a few minutes to a few hours of durability when electronically operating at these high temperatures. For a long-duration Venus surface operation, wide bandgap electronics technology must first achieve stable, long-term operation under electrical bias at 450°C temperature without significant drift in electrical operating parameters. However, sending a lander to Venus requires more than just high-temperature electronics. The mechanical side of engineering a Venus lander would still be difficult today, but thanks to advances in materials science, oil drilling, and other high-temperature industrial pursuits, it should be within our capabilities. NASA GRC (Glenn Research Center) is world-leader in harsh environment electronics and sensor technology and is uniquely positioned to contribute to future Venus electronics systems. NASA GRC has developed SiC-based transistor technology (including packaging) that has demonstrated continuous electrical operation at 500°C for over 2000 hours.
In this essay, I am going to focus on high temperature electronic aspect of Venus Landers and take a quick look at NASA GRC’s test results on high temperature components and finding the best materials and devices.