Agencies working for NASA have used this term for craft designed to explore solar-system bodies such as Venus, Mars and Titan.
Three sorts of aerobots are proposed or are under development. One type is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which is launched from an orbiting spacecraft and deploys wings before it lands. The second is a lighter-than-air craft, a helium-filled balloon fitted with heaters powered by solar cells. A third is a hybrid balloon-kite system sometimes called a helikite.
An advantage of the second and third kinds is that they don’t need fuel, which is expensive to transport and which runs out all too soon. Unlike satellites or the winged aerobot, the lighter-than-air versions can fly for extended periods, allowing long-term monitoring of the properties of the atmosphere. They can also view and record the ground from much lower altitudes than is possible with satellites.
In the NASA sense, the word combines the prefix aero-, as in aeronautics, with bot, a common abbreviated form of robot. However, aerobot is also a trademarked term of Moller International for its small ducted fan aerial vehicle, in which the first part of the word would seem to be from aerial rather than aeronautics.
Phipps said his team spent 18 months and several hundred-thousand Euros developing a mission concept featuring two orbiters packed with miniaturized instruments and a tiny aerobot that would be dropped into Venus’ corrosive atmosphere.
USA Today, 9 Aug. 2005.
Take this sophistication to another level and an aerobot sent to Titan could be left to get on with scientific observations, safe in the knowledge that the vehicle would not crash into the first hill.
BBC News, 14 Jan. 2006.