The next Venus rover will have a steampunk vibe

Originally published at:


I would read the heck out of a steampunk hellish landscape science fiction story, just saying. Strong Asimov vibes.


The HSNY (Horological Society Of New York) did a lecture on this exact topic back in December last year-and the video of the lecture was lost accidentally.
So there was a room full of watch and clock makers actually discussing this with people from NASA.

If you are into this sort of thing, they have a great youtube channel where all their lectures are released for free to public viewing in a couple months. I’m an AWCI member, so I’m an affiliate HSNY member that can see their lectures right away.


If it ain’t called “Lovelace” it had better be called “Babbage”. Or else.


“We were saying, ‘wouldn’t it be cool if we could just build a spacecraft that was all mechanisms, all stuff that’s in our wheelhouse. What would an entirely mechanical spacecraft look like?’

“Initially it was just a crazy idea we were bouncing around. We were talking about Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests [wind-powered kinetic sculptures that walk across beaches in Holland] and the Antikythera mechanical computer as well. But as we were talking about it, we realised there could be a real application for this on Venus.”

Current design:



I was really wondering how they were going to have instruments that collect and transmit data without electronics. I was ultimately unsurprised that, it turns out, they weren’t. The focus there is on simple, robust electronics.

They do mention that they altered the design when it was pointed out that the Strandbeest legs work best on nice flat beaches and would get caught on rocks, so they realized they need to go with treads or wheels.


The linked article didn’t have a good picture of a strandbeest that showed how those things move. And when you see how they move it becomes clear that they need a flat surface without any impediments.


That’s what they want you to think!

It may be yet another conspiracy theory, but even a broken clock on Venus is right every 58 days and nine hours.


I think calling this “the next Venus rover” is grossly overstating the state of this project. Is there any planned launch for this mission? I think these are creative and great ideas but are they ever going to get off the ground (literally)? I doubt it. Exploring Venus is more likely a good reason to develop high temperature capable electronics. There must be other semiconductor materials which could have different temperature ranges. 450 degrees C isn’t some insanely high temperature where everything starts melting. It’s just hot.


I’d be voting for Henlein but that may be local patriotism speaking.


Thermionic emission devices… the high temperatures would favour. They don’t have to be in bottles, either :slight_smile: ; indeed with Venus ground level pressures would need to be a small, sturdy evacuated volume.


I was just thinking that for a proper steampunk design, they should use a spark gap transmitter to upload data to the orbiter.


You’re right about that. Honeywell already makes microcontrollers that can survive 1 year at 300 deg. C, can be bought at Digikey and are not even all that expensive:
If there was more commercial interest in such devices, 450 deg. C tolerant CPUs would be available too.
What the article says is plainly not true:

The most robust commercially available electronics can’t handle temperatures above 125°C, a fraction of what they’d face on Venus.

Or for even weirder solution glow transfer logic could be used :slight_smile:

It wouldn’t be practical, but would look lovely.


reminds me of this ( this was built in 2012, fabulous effort ).
Cold War Nixie Tube Clock : Hourglass


It’s perfect :slight_smile:
If the doomsday clock would be a physical device, that’s how it should look.
I made my own nixie tube clock, but casing is nowhere as cool and it has a microcontroller inside. Also have a few dekatrons, but haven’t done anything with them yet.


… In no small part because there has not been a first Venus rover.


Not a crazy idea. The borosilicate glass should be able to withstand the pressures and temperatures without difficulty. It’s rated for 280 Mpa, more than thirty times the surface pressure of Venus (obviously this depends on thickness, but even relatively thin tubes can probably withstand 9.3 MPa), is chemically inert so the acidic atmosphere shouldn’t dissolve it, and it’s resistant to thermal shock so it should survive the heating to 467 °C.

Honestly, I’d be more concerned about sealing the base pins from the corrosive atmosphere, but that should be feasible. At the very least a vacuum tube radio could communicate with an orbiter.

More importantly it would look cool. :slightly_smiling_face:


1950’s SciFi cool. Throw a pack of Camels in there for atmosphere


Yeah- if you guys read the article, at one point they do mention using tubes because they handle high temp limits, but then go on to explain the seals or something would not last in that environment.

They are only saying something like 300 meters of total movement before current tech might break down, all within 24 hours, but they are still just finding the limits of silicon carbide (moissanite) circuitry, which has been rediscovered by another branch of NASA for such applications. Apparently that circuitry can handle the extreme temps put out by Venus atmosphere.

I dunno about you, but it was delightful to think there would be a clockwork wind powered mechanical rover etching data onto records and sending them up with little helium balloons. The image of that was so delightful space exploration became interesting to me again :relaxed:


Heretic! …but ya, I tried…not a well behaved page, had to restart my browser. over 700 cookies, and some autoplay video (I don’t use blockers or incognito when I use BB, they gotta pay the bills :slight_smile: )

Indeed. As I recall the first " disks" for home video were mechanical, in the sense that the signal was encoded in surface irregularities and read by a capacitance probe. They were pizza size and held about 30 min of video. And then there are the Turing machines realised in LEGO or sometimes more sophisticated mechanisms. lots of interesting possibilities