NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program
Phase I Award: Up to $125,000 for 9 Months
Micro-Probes Propelled and Powered by Planetary Atmospheric Electricity (MP4AE)
West Virginia University
Inspired by spiders’ ballooning capabilities, the proposed concept envision the deployment of thousands of micro probes to study planetary atmospheres. Each micro probe, with a total mass of about 50 mg, will have a small payload pod hanging under a 200 m long string loop, which provides both atmospheric drag and electrostatic lifts. Two electric booms each about 2.5 m long will sense the Atmospheric Potential Gradient (APG) and harvest a small amount of electricity for powering the probe.
The payload pod will contain energy storage and conversion devices, an actuator for replenishing and regulating the static electric charge on the string loop, and integrated microprocessor, radio, and sensors. The motions of the micro probes will be uncontrolled along the horizontal directions but can be regulated to a limited degree along the vertical direction.
The onboard control system will allow extending the mission time and increasing the probability of keeping the probe in the desired atmospheric layer. If successful, the proposed micro probes can support several future planetary missions by gaining large spatial-scale atmospheric sensing capabilities.