ASI W9900396r1.0

Moon Miners' Manifesto

#111 December 1997

Section the Artemis Data Book

The Jovgo Jupiter Jet

By Francis F. Graham
Kent State University, Physics Dept.

With the great interest in planetary probes recently engendered by the discovery of life on Mars (at some point) and the success of the Jupiter Galileo mission, it's time to bring up an interesting idea that I originally had in 1966, and developed somewhat in 1978 at a presentation in grad school.

I learned from the only book about Jupiter in 1965, "The Planet Jupiter" by Bertrand M. Peek, that the largest planet in the solar system was surrounded by an immense atmosphere of hydrogen, helium, methane and ammonia. Two of these molecules, molecular hydrogen and methane, are flammable when mixed with oxygen. Hence it seemed logical that the best sort of Jupiter probe into the atmosphere would be one that was able to fly around the atmosphere of Jupiter using onboard oxygen (or an oxidizer) and sucking in the Jovian atmosphere; in other words, a jet airplane that carried its own oxygen rather than its own fuel, and drew the fuel in from the outside.

The "Jovgo" probe as originally proposed would be a heavy probe capable of many tasks, and would be boosted to Jupiter on a Saturn V. It would aerobrake into the Jovian atmosphere and unfold variable-geometry wings. It could then spend several days using a supply of oxidant to fly around the 0.1-100 bar level of Jupiter's atmosphere, from the equator to the poles, taking samples and performing unique analyses. The size of a fighter jet, it would have a one-way range of about 40,000 miles near the Jovian cloudtops, with careful choice of rising and sinking columns.

By 1978, post-Pioneer 10, it was clear the belts of Jupiter and zones of Jupiter were ascending and descending atmosphere. Thus, the Jovgo probe could extend its life by gliding up on zonal upwelling, and overflying some of the belts. Slowly, as Jovgo approached the poles of Jupiter, it would begin to glide into the denser layers of the planet and finally succumb to the high-pressure, high temperature auto da fe that did in the entry probe of the Galileo spacecraft last December. With Jovgo however, the atmosphere of Jupiter would be more rigorously explored by a probe that would give a cross-section of the atmosphere from the equator to the poles.

Hopefully, the Jovgo concept is an interesting one and perhaps it may see fruition someday. In any case, the design of aircraft for planets other than Earth is an interesting challenge. The Russians launched two balloons in the atmosphere of Venus in 1985, it is to be noted, from their Vega spacecraft, perhaps the first extraterrestrial "aircraft" per se.

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