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Planetary Science from Directed Aerial Robot Explorers


Funded by the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts


Global Aerospace Corporation (GAC) is developing a revolutionary system architecture for exploration of planetary atmospheres and surfaces from atmospheric altitudes. This innovative system architecture relies upon the use of Directed Aerial Robot Explorers (DARE), which essentially are autonomous balloons with trajectory control capabilities that can deploy swarms of miniature probes over multiple target areas. The balloons will follow the winds while in passive-exploring mode or steer across the winds towards regions of interest while in active-directed mode.

The balloons will serve a dual purpose as independent explorers and as micro probes (MIPs) delivery systems for targeted observations. Trajectory control capabilities will offer unprecedented opportunities in high-resolution targeted observations of both atmospheric and surface phenomena. Multifunctional micro probes will be deployed from the balloons once over the target areas, and perform a multitude of functions, such as atmospheric profiling (Jupiter, Saturn), or surface exploration (Mars, Venus, Titan), relaying data back to the balloons.

This architecture will enable low-cost, low-energy, long-term global exploration of planetary atmospheres and surfaces.

Key elements of this new concept are:

  • Low-cost, low-energy, long-duration, autonomous balloon systems,
  • Lightweight and efficient power generation and energy storage
  • Balloon trajectory control capability, and
  • Deployable micro sensors for in situ atmospheric profiling or surface exploration


Advantages of DARE:

  • Bridge the gap between orbital and surface observations
  • Combine advantages of orbital and in situ platforms:
    -Nearly global spatial coverage
    -Long duration
    -Targeted observations on global scale
    -In situ atmospheric profiling on global scale
    -Diurnal coverage

Venus has been selected for a more focused study of the DARE system architecture because its planetary atmosphere allows for a high degree of trajectory control, the balloon technology has been previously tested in the Venus atmosphere, and because of the high scientific priority of such a mission. A Venus mission would:


  • Capitalize on past Venus balloon missions,
  • Enable global coverage,
  • Enable targeted observations,
  • Provide opportunities for in situ atmospheric profiling,
  • Enable surface imaging (VIS/IR),
  • Resolve questions about the nature of meridional circulation and atmospheric superrotation.


This page is a jumping-off point to view simulations that illustrate the feasibility of using a reasonably low level of balloon trajectory control to maintain geometry objectives on Venus.

Figure 1. Artist rendition of the proposed concept
(background image courtesy of NASA).



Figure 2. Possible DARE Platform Design
(MIP – micro-probes, BGS – Ballon Guidance System)


Biomorphic flight system examples


Entomopter for flight on Mars
(A. Colozza, Ohio Aerospace Institute)


Mars Hexabot (JPL NASA)