As part of NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program, the Jet Propulsion Lab at NASA is looking into using a ‘windbot’ to harness the power of Jupiter’s turbulent winds, and stay airborne without needing fuel.
The windbot idea was given £64,000 ($100,000) in funding back in May, so that the team at JPL can explore the idea further. The basic model for the windbot is something like a dandelion seed: a probe that harnesses the power of turbulence to drift around Jupiter (or potentially Earth, for that matter).
Why turbulence? Well, according to NASA, it’s all about the energy gradient, which is a constant high wind velocity is useless, whereas the constant ups and downs of turbulence provide a variation in energy that can be harnessed.
The windbot idea isn’t the first to try and keep an aircraft in the sky for a long time: you’ve probably heard of Solar Impulse, the solar-powered plane trying to fly around the world right now. But solar power means you need some kind of energy-storage system to survive the nights. Batteries are heavy, and also surprisingly fragile, which is proved by Solar Impulse being currently grounded until next year thanks to battery problems. [NASA]
Image: artist rendering of a windbot bobbing through the skies of Jupiter. Credit NASA/JPL+Caltech