While scrolling for ideas this week I came across the article: The Toughest Spaceship We Ever Built (http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160705-the-toughest-spaceship-weve-ever-built). I loved this article for many different reasons.
1. Hello, Science - geek time
2. Visiting Other Planets - Venus you sassy planet, you
and the best part, needing something old to make it happen,
3. The Stirling Engine - invented around 1816, may be what we need to make a Lander happen
We have some of the most advanced technology of our time, but it may take 200 year old technology to make the study of Venus's surface possible. How awesome is that?
The problem scientists have been dealing with is how hot the surface of Venus gets (up to 860 F) and the toxic atmosphere (sulfuric acid anyone?). They need a Lander that can survive these and the atmospheric pressure. So the problem is we have the technology to get there but not the tech (or so we thought) to stay there and make some comprehensive studies.
The precious record of something surviving on Venus's surface is 127 minutes - yup, you read that right. Two hours and seven minutes from a little Soviet Union Lander. That's not nearly enough time to make a comprehensive study of a planet where lead and zinc are liquids as their normal state. The problem becomes the tech breaks down so quickly because of the hostile environment.
That's where the Stirling Engine comes into play. They have a "cold" chamber where the liquid is compressed by a piston and moved to a second chamber where it is heated and expends. This moves a second piston that is linked to the first and the liquid is drawn back to the first chamber where the temperature of the liquid drops again. The cycle happens continuously as long as their is heat to keep it going.
And this technology could be NASA's answer to keeping the electronics cool while providing them with electricity to run on Venus's surface. They have already funded some initial testing to see if it will work.
Pretty fucking cool, right?
What I love about this most is that "old, out-dated" tech may be the key to helping the latest innovations to work. It's a topic that often comes up if you study history - "Rediscovered technology." Just because something is old doesn't mean it stops being useful. Sometimes we're so focused on newer and better we don't stop to think if what we're replacing it with is necessarily better. Sometimes we already had it right and were too focused on making it easier, breaking stuff in the process.
Which is why I love it when people figure out sometimes something old makes our newest endeavors easier. This certainly doesn't apply to all old tech or medical or scientific knowledge, but knowing what was there can certainly help make the future more interesting. You never know when you might need to pull from that knowledge again.