Simulating the most severe situations in the solar system
When the New Horizons satellite passed Pluto, it was traveling at 30,800 miles-per-hour. Plenty of data were gathered in that time, but it’s not the kind of situation that allows researchers to respond to what they’re observing with new measurements, much less conduct an actual experiment. While we have successfully posted robots at a number of locations in our solar system, it’s not always easy to get a 15-year research program off the ground. So as a plan B, scientists are going to try to recreate pockets of our solar system here on Earth.
Can of catastrophic conditions
The device in question is called the Glenn Extreme Environment Rig (GEER). It is a 14-ton steel container, measuring only three- by six-feet. While this may sound a bit like a very heavy refrigerator, it’s actually just the opposite, as it’s capable of creating and housing temperatures over 900º Fahrenheit. To add to that, the container can be pressurized to over 100 times sea level atmospheric pressures, making for a truly hazardous environment inside. (It also has a handy touch-screen interface.)
A safer way to visit Venus
The original goals of this amazing pressure-cooker was to test jet engines. Since the hot, pressurized workings an engine isn’t a bad proxy for the atmosphere of Venus, GEER is being re-purposed as a simulator for one of Earth’s neighbors in the solar system. Venus’ atmosphere is hostile at best, with intense pressures and regular surface temperatures of 863º Fahrenheit. Layers of carbon-dioxide cover clouds of sulfur dioxide and sulfuric acid. Extreme winds round out a package that explains why we haven’t sent a lander to the evening star yet.
Some lander missions are being proposed though, and GEER could help in the design process for those missions. Simulations wouldn’t be perfect replicas of Venus of course, but they’d allow for testing and feedback otherwise out of reach. Beyond Venus, GEER could help plan and test missions to Saturn and Jupiter. Simulating Uranus might be a possiblity as well, if some new cooling systems are added, since the target temperature in that case would be around a frosty -371° Fahrenheit. Quite the refrigerator indeed.
Source: Hell On Earth: NASA Recreates Venus' Extreme Atmosphere by Irene Klotz, Discovery News