In 1985, Fayetteville-born astronaut Richard Covey packed up the Fayetteville flag, and took it into space while carrying out a mission on the Space Shuttle Discovery.
Since then, we haven’t heard of many pieces of Fayetteville making their way past the atmosphere and out into the great beyond. That could soon change, however.
Fayetteville-based company Ozark Integrated Circuits was recently awarded $245,000 in NASA grants to develop an ultraviolet imager and a micro controller that can operate on the 932-degree surface of Venus.
The company, founded in 2011 by locals Matt Francis and Jim Holmes and located at the Arkansas Research and Technology Park, is a semiconductor company that develops integrated circuits for remote sensing that are designed to operate under extreme environment conditions (like, for example, the surface of Venus).
In fact, Ozark Integrated Circuits has already demonstrated the ability to create a circuit that could withstand heats of up to 662 degrees Fahrenheit. Their plan to increase that to the necessary 932-degree threshold includes the use of a new silicon carbide substrate, and lots of experience working with semiconductors.
“Silicon carbide is a semiconductor that is ideally suited for the extreme environments found on Venus,” said Matt Francis, founder and CO of Ozark Integrated Circuits. “We have many years of experience working with this semiconductor fabrication process, developing models and process-design kits specifically for this process.”
If everything goes well, these new circuits developed in Fayetteville could be incorporated in the overall design of NASA’s proposed Venus Landsailing Rover.
The contract is big news, as IEEE Spectrum writer Evan Ackerman points out, because though the concept of a Landsailing Rover mission to Venus has been around for several years, there’s never been evidence to suggest that NASA was planning a specific mission.
The fact that they’re now ordering parts for one could mean that a mission to explore the hot surface of the planet could actually be in the works.
The concept for the Venus Landsailing Rover is pretty cool, too. The simple-looking rover would roll along the surface powered by a sail that harnesses the high-density, low-velocity winds on the planet’s surface. If it gets stuck, a little balloon inflates and lifts the rover off the planets surface to re-set it.
Should a mission to explore the surface of Venus become a reality someday, it will be interesting to know that a large part of what made it possible was developed right here in Fayetteville.