Credit: Black Swift Technologies

Black Swift Technologies, a Boulder, Colorado-based firm, has been awarded a NASA contract to develop an aerial vehicle for atmospheric observations of Venus.

“Black Swift Technologies has provided aerial solutions for wild land fires, volcanic observations, tornadoes, and hurricanes—some of the most extreme phenomena on Earth,” explains Jack Elston, CEO of the company. “This mission is a natural extension of our focus, only now we are concentrating on the extreme conditions of Venus.”

Dynamic soaring

As a specialized engineering firm, Black Swift Technologies (BST) provides purpose-built scientific aerial platforms. BST is proposing a planetary aerial vehicle based on dynamic soaring, a proven method to extract energy from atmospheric shear that has propelled the fastest small-scale aircraft in the world, and provided the energy necessary for long-endurance low-level flights of birds across oceans.

A composite image of the planet Venus as seen by the Japanese probe Akatsuki. The clouds of Venus could have environmental conditions conducive to microbial life.
Credit: JAXA

“Our solution will be designed to not only survive in the harsh wind environment, but also simultaneously perform targeted sampling of the atmosphere while continuously extracting energy, even on the dark side of the planet,” Elston points out in a press statement.

Upper atmosphere

Despite the fact that the surface temperature of Venus is hotter than any other planet in the Solar System at 467°C, the atmospheric pressure and temperature at about 30 miles (50 kilometers) to 40 miles (65 kilometers) above the surface of the planet is nearly the same as that of the Earth.

That makes the planet’s upper atmosphere the most Earth-like area in the solar system, even more so than the surface of Mars.

Don Mitchell, a retired researcher, matched his computer science skills with a passion for old spacecraft data to reveal never-before-seen details in Soviet Union Venera-13 lander images.
Credit: Don Mitchell

Super rotation

The atmosphere of Venus is composed primarily of carbon dioxide and nitrogen and is much denser and hotter than that of Earth. The upper layer of Venus’ atmosphere exhibits a phenomenon of super-rotation, where the atmosphere circles the planet in just four Earth days.

The resulting winds blow at speeds up to 100 m/s (360 km/h or 220 mph). On the other hand, the wind speed becomes increasingly slower as the elevation from the surface decreases, with the breeze barely reaching the speed of 2.8 m/s (10 km/h) on the surface.

Founded in 2011, Black Swift Technologies offers unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) capable of flying scientific payloads in demanding atmospheric environments (high-altitude, corrosive particulates, and strong turbulence).


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