The Radio We Could Send to Hell

Silicon carbide radio circuits can take the volcanic heat of Venus

12 min read

In an artist's rendering, a future Venus rover gains some power from wind blowing in the planet's thick atmosphere.

Illustration: NoEmotion

There were few bright spots in the pandemic summer of 2020. One of the most dazzling was the flight of U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station and their safe return to Earth aboard a commercial spacecraft from SpaceX. This demonstration was significant for many reasons, one of which was that it suggested a future in which NASA, freed from the demands of getting people to low Earth orbit, could aim much farther. Perhaps as far as Venus.

Excitement over a possible mission to Venus was stoked by the (now somewhat disputed) discovery of phosphine gas—a possible sign of microbial life—in that planet's atmosphere. But the second planet from the sun has such an extreme environment that the longest-lasting lander, the Soviet Venera 13, was able to send data for only 2 hours and 7 minutes. The average surface temperature on Venus is 464 °C, the atmosphere is dense with highly corrosive droplets of sulfuric acid, and the atmospheric pressure at the surface is about 90 times that of Earth. Yet scientists think of Venus as our home world's twin.

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