Researchers want to deploy of thousands of 50-milligram micro-probes to study planetary atmospheres.
They each will have a small payload pod hanging under a 200 meter long string loop, which provides both atmospheric drag and electrostatic lifts. Two electric booms each about 2.5 meter long will sense the Atmospheric Potential Gradient (APG) and harvest a small amount of electricity for powering the probe. The payload pod will contain energy storage and conversion devices, an actuator for replenishing and regulating the static electric charge on the string loop, and integrated microprocessor, radio, and sensors. The motions of the micro probes will be uncontrolled along the horizontal directions but can be regulated to a limited degree along the vertical direction. The onboard control system will allow extending the mission time and increasing the probability of keeping the probe in the desired atmospheric layer. If successful, the proposed micro probes can support several future planetary missions by gaining large spatial-scale atmospheric sensing capabilities.