Venus Exploration: Thinking Outside the Box

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, one of NASA’s top research facilities, is currently investigating whether it is feasible to design a wind-powered clock-work rover for Venus, tentatively named Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments (AREE). The basic concept was conceived by Jonathan Sauder, a mechatronics engineer at JPL.

AREE is designed to function on Venus’s surface without electronics, because the searing (470°C) and crushing (92 bar) atmosphere destroys such components quickly. Fortunately, the planet’s forceful winds can power Savonius wind turbines that provide the required mechanical energy for ground propulsion and on-board devices, for example a mechanical computer. Ergo, AREE is a clock-tech design made of hi-tech materials able to survive in that hellish environment for months.

AREE communicates with a Venus orbiter by a contraption of radar-reflective panels that can be set at various angles. The orbiter broadcasts a radar signal that is reflected back from those panels; the received “image” is then decoded by the orbiter. This simple device is comparable to Morse code or 18th-century semaphore telegraphs. (Also, check the movie The Martian where a stranded astronaut devises a similar method to communicate with Earth.)

Click on the AREE picture for a larger version.

Read more about the AREE studies here — link >>>

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XKCD: Rocky Bodies in 2 Dimensions

The eminent site XKCD has published this picture that compares the surface areas of notable rocky celestial bodies in our solar system. The four giant planets are excluded because they lack mappable surfaces. The arrangement would be laid out nicely on the type of Ringworld that Larry Niven proposed in some of his stories — link >>>

Venus-safe Technology Is Hard to Get

NASA is currently investigating what materials and devices could be used for future Venus landers. The planet’s hellish environment degrades even stainless steel quickly, so research probes have so far ceased to function within two hours after touchdown. The Glenn Extreme Environments Rig is a 14-ton testing chamber that recreates Venus’s toxic, corrosive, and hot surface conditions.

Read more here — link >>>

Kickstarter: Traveller Customizable Card Game

Those gamers that have known me for a long time, also know that one of my all-time favorite RPGs is Traveller (read my opinion about it here — link >>> ), a space-faring game in the far future, where you take the roles of interstellar traders, spies, rogues and explorers. Its creator Marc Miller has spent the last decade or so refreshing its cosmos, among other things by writing a good novel about exploration, hazards and politics in the human-dominated Third Imperium: Agent of the Imperium (you find it here — link >>> ).

Marc has now licensed a Traveller customizable card game, which just has been launched on Kickstarter (check the project here — link >>> ). I think this is a cool project, and the game’s solo-player option makes it even more interesting, at least to me.

A scene straight out of the game: the seamy aspect of interstellar business in the Third Imperium. Click on the picture for a larger version.

“Sci-Fi!”: En ökenbosättning på Khuda

Summary in English: A scene from the Swedish space opera RPG Sci-Fi!

I det svenska space-opera-rollspelet Sci-Fi!:s (länk >>> ) avsnitt om kampanjkosmos Nya Eran beskrivs planeten Khuda för äventyr med Förenade Mänsklighetens Spejarkår. Det här kan vara ett landskap på denna världs förtorkade norra halvklot, en plats som de djärva spejarna har god anledning att ta en närmare titt på.

Konstnär: Sergey Vasnev på ArtStation. Klicka på bilden för en större version.

Review: “Terraforming Mars”


Since I became a board-gamer in 1974, I have had three gosh-wow experiences at the gaming table: Civilization (Avalon Hill) in 1981, Twilight Struggle (GMT Games) in 2008 och Terraforming Mars (Fryxgames) in 2016 – three brilliant designs with much flavor, suspense and gaminess.

The theme of Terraforming Mars is to make the Red Planet habitable to humans by executing hi-tech projects that raise the temperature, improve the atmosphere and create oceans. Each player runs a megacorporation, either a “plain vanilla” one or one with unique advantages and limitations (e.g. top-notch biotech combined with budgetary constraints). One round is called a generation so a match spans centuries. When three predetermined targets have been reached — usually after only a few hours of play — the match ends and scores are calculated. Victory requires a clever mix of resource management and worker placement.

The components are a gameboard that depicts the Martian hemisphere with the Hellas basin and Vallis Marineris; card decks; plastic cubes in various colors and sizes that represent resources and properties; and hexagon tiles that represent cities, oceans and forests. Quality ranges from OK (the cubes) to excellent (the Mars board). My sole complaint is that the card texts are too tiny for my middle-aged eyes — next time I will use a magnifying glass.

Ultrashort Summary
The resources megacredits, steel, titanium, plants, energy, and heat are used to purchase and play project cards, construct industrial facilities, cultivate vegetation and carry out a lot of other ventures that will make Mars habitable. New cash arrives automatically every turn, but when it comes to everything else each corporation must establish its own production.

About 200 unique project cards represent dramatic events (e.g. crashing an ice asteroid onto Mars); inventions (e.g. a new energy source); and political maneuvers (e.g. making a cartel to take resources from a competitor); et cetera. Some deal with events on Earth (e.g. corruption and media coverage) and others with ventures among the asteroids and the moons of Jupiter (these celestial bodies are handled abstractly).

Success is costly, and bottlenecks in your corporation’s cash flow and energy production frequently obstruct your strategies. Unspent resources can be saved from turn to turn except for energy, which turns into waste heat that warms the planet (a clever notion). Certain ecological projects require specific oxygen levels and temperatures. The megacorporations can harass each other with cards that pilfer energy, cash or metals through cartels, cybercrimes, and raids; however, these cards are optional and can be removed from the deck before play.

The match ends when all ocean tiles are in place and Mars’s oxygen level and average temperature have reach their predetermined targets. The players calculate victory scores from general terraforming contributions; the emplacement of city, forest and ocean tiles; and accumulated points from specific projects (e.g. animal husbandry).

The rules are easy to grasp and the players’ challenge is to execute their plans skilfully, because there are many paths to victory. Furthermore, a solo-play option is provided. And, yes, the designers have been inspired by Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy: there is an oblique reference in the rules where some explanatory examples contain three gamers named Kim, Stanley and Robinson.

My Verdict
5 Red Planets out of 5. I’ll actually upgrade it to 5+, because of the game’s high gosh-wow density.

Fryxgames News
I have learned that the Fryxgames designers are working on expansion kits with new maps for Mars and possibly other celestial bodies. Yes, please!