Aerobot

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An aerobot is an aerial robot, usually used in the context of an unmanned space probe or unmanned aerial vehicle.

While work has been done since the 1960s on robot "rovers" to explore the Moon and other worlds in the Solar system, such machines have limitations. They tend to be expensive and have limited range, and due to the communications time lags over interplanetary distances, they have to be smart enough to navigate without disabling themselves.

For planets with atmospheres of any substance, however, there is an alternative: an autonomous flying robot, or "aerobot" [1][2] Most aerobot concepts are based on aerostats, primarily balloons, but occasionally airships. Flying above obstructions in the winds, a balloon could explore large regions of a planet in great detail for relatively low cost. Airplanes for planetary exploration have also been proposed.

Contents

Basics of balloons

While the notion of sending a balloon to another planet sounds strange at first, balloons have a number of advantages for planetary exploration. They can be made light in weight and are potentially relatively inexpensive. They can cover a great deal of ground, and their view from a height gives them the ability to examine wide swathes of terrain with far more detail than would be available from an orbiting satellite. For exploratory missions, their relative lack of directional control is not a major obstacle as there is generally no need to direct them to a specific location.

Balloon designs for possible planetary missions have involved a few unusual concepts. One is the solar, or infrared (IR) Montgolfiere. This is a hot-air balloon where the envelope is made from a material that traps heat from sunlight, or from heat radiated from a planetary surface. Black is the best color for absorbing heat, but other factors are involved and the material may not necessarily be black.

Solar Montgolfieres have several advantages for planetary exploration, as they can be easier to deploy than a light gas balloon, do not necessarily require a tank of light gas for inflation, and are relatively forgiving of small leaks. They do have the disadvantage that they are only aloft during daylight hours.

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