GE Research got $1.7 million from NASA to Develop High-Temperature Solutions to Enhance Missions to Venus

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On Venus, the surface temperature is roughly 475 degrees Celsius (900 degrees Fahrenheit). That’s the same temperature as a wood-fired pizza oven. Researchers from GE and NASA are working on a UV imager that can withstand these harsh circumstances and consistently explore and collect data on the planet’s surface.

GE researchers are aiming for Venus with ground-breaking electronics and sensors developed on Earth that could one day serve both planets. NASA’s High Operating Temperature Technology (HOTTech) program has awarded GE Research’s Electronics and Sensing Team a three-year, $1.7 million grant to develop and demonstrate a self-illuminating UV imager that can withstand Venus’ extreme temperature and pressure environment in order to study the composition and structure of the planet’s surface and atmosphere. To see an infographic showing out-of-this-world inventions developed by GE and NASA to enhance space exploration and advances on Earth, click here. 

The agency’s HOTTech initiative encourages the development of high-temperature electrical, electronic, and electric power systems that will aid space exploration and discoveries in high-temperature, hazardous environments such as Venus.

The UV imager will be developed and demonstrated by the GE Research team in collaboration with NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. The imager array, which gathers information about the material and mineral composition of the planet’s surface, will be developed by GE researchers. The imager readout integrated circuit electronics, which analyses data for transmission back to Earth, will be built by NASA researchers. The imager readout circuits are based on NASA-developed breakthroughs in high-temperature electronics that can work in Venus’s surface temperatures for long periods of time. This effort will also entail testing at Glenn’s Extreme Environment Rig in simulated Venus surface conditions.

“This new UV imager will not only further the frontiers of space exploration, we believe it will push a new frontier of breakthrough electronics here on Earth that can function in the most extreme operating environments,” “Technology designed to survive and operate in planetary environments can also advance the state-of-the-art in our own world. That’s what this project is helping to do. We have seen how semiconductors and next-generation electronics have transformed our world in areas such as telecommunications, big data computing, and automotive.  But we have only scratched the surface of what’s possible. When we have electronics that reliably function in hotter and harsher environments, we create new opportunities to improve major infrastructure like the power grid, to advance breakthroughs in the sea, air, and space propulsion, and to enable new challenging applications in the defense sector,”

  said Jim LeBlanc, Technology Director for Electrical Systems at GE Research.

Autonomous vehicles and hypersonic platforms, according to LeBlanc, could be used in defense applications. More ruggedized electronics in the aviation and power sectors could allow sensors to be placed in engines or power turbines that were previously impossible. This might provide such systems access to important data, allowing them to get insights into how to improve performance and dependability.

“As a leading developer and manufacturer of technology for jet engines and power generation turbines, we feel like operating on Venus falls right in our core area of focus. In fact, we’re already working today on developing new metals, ceramics, and electronic systems that can withstand hot and harsh conditions nearly twice what would be experienced on Venus,”

said LeBlanc said. 

The GE Research team plans to develop, fabricate, and demonstrate a high-temperature sensor for the UV imager that operates reliably at temperatures hotter than Venus’ surface and atmosphere at 500 degrees Celsius, using its leading SiC packaging technology and 20-year photodiode production background. From SiC MOSFETs to high-temperature packaging and materials research, GE has decades of experience in severe environment electronics. NASA Glenn has also been a pioneer in the development of high-temperature electronics and sensors for decades. This combined experience, paired with GE Research’s 60 years of creating, demonstrating, and deploying electronics and sensor systems, gives NASA’s HoTTech program a better chance of solving the toughest difficulties.

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