The planet venus has an extremely harsh environment and its exploration has proven challenging for this reason. While constructing pressurized housings for devices and electronics is possible, it complicates designs and adds tremendously to weight and costs. The best solution is to have electronics that can withstand the harsh environments on their own. The planet’s temperatures reach 460 degrees C and its atmospheric pressure reaches 9.4 MPa (over 1324 lbs/sq. inch).
Researchers at the NASA Glen Research Center in Cleveland found silicon carbide (SiC) ICs operational for 521 hours (about 21.7 days) at these conditions. This amount of time is 100 times longer than previous ICs have been operational at such conditions. They published their findings in AIP Advances.
The researchers tested the ICs in the NASA Glenn Extreme Environments Rig (GEER) to directly simulate these conditions on Venus. They selected two NASA Glenn fabricated SiC JFET ring oscillator ICs residing on separate chips for testing in GEER: a 3-stage ring oscillator and an 11-stage ring oscillator.
“This study marks the first reported demonstration of multi-day/week semiconductor IC functionality in Venus surface atmospheric conditions without pressure vessel, cooling, or other means protecting chips from the scorching caustic environment,” Philip J. Huerick reported in the AIP Advances article.
The team is working to make the robust ICs more complex. “We are presently striving to upscale the Venus-durable SiC JFET IC technology towards hundreds of transistors per chip circuit complexity. Such level of integration would be comparable to the complexity of IC chips used in mankind’s first wave of solar system exploration launched prior to 1978, including the highly successful NASA Viking Mars landers,” Huerick said in the article.
P. G. Neudeck et. al., “Prolonged silicon carbide integrated circuit operation in Venus surface atmospheric conditions”, AIP Advances 6, 125119 (2016); doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4973429.