An artist's impression of the proposed Rocket Lab mission to Venus.

Rocket Lab will self-finance a mission to search for life in the clouds of Venus – Ars Technica

An artist's impression of the proposed Rocket Lab mission to Venus.
Zoom / An artist’s impression of the proposed Rocket Lab mission to Venus.

MDPI Aerospace/Rocket Lab

Never let it be said that Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck lacks a flamboyant streak.

Although his Electron launch vehicle is one of the world’s smallest orbital rockets, Beck absorbs every bit of performance from the booster he can. In only the rocket’s second launch, in January 2018, it added a geodesic-like disco sphere called the “Humanity Star” to give humans a small, bright, but briefly bright object to stare at at the night sky.

“The whole point of the program is to get everyone to look at the star, but also go beyond the star into the universe, and think about the fact that we are one species, on one planet,” He said in time.

In interviews since then, Beck has made no secret of his love for humanity’s closest world, Venus. The surface of this hellish planet is a swamp of carbon dioxide, crushing pressures, and fiery temperatures. But scientists believe that above this terrible surface, in the clouds of Venus, there are air pressures not different from those on Earth, where conditions may be favorable for some forms of life.

And so Peter Beck wants to use his tiny electronic rocket, which is 18 meters high and can throw roughly 300 kilograms into low Earth orbit, to find out.

Venus then

The company Rocket Lab announced, on Tuesday evening, that it will self-finance the development and launch of a small spacecraft, which will send a small probe to fly through the clouds of Venus for about 5 minutes, at an altitude of 48 to 60 km. Beck joined forces with several famous planetary scientists, including MIT professor Sarah Seeger, to design this mission.

The electron will deliver the spacecraft to an orbit 165 km above Earth, where the high-energy photon upper stage of the rocket will do a number of burns to raise the spacecraft’s orbit and reach its escape velocity. Assuming a launch in May 2023 — there’s a chance in January 2025 — the spacecraft will reach Venus in October 2023. Once there, a photon will scatter a small probe of roughly 20 kg into Venus’ atmosphere.

The spacecraft will be small, as the deep space probes go, and contain a 1kg science payload consisting of a self-luminescent nephrometer, an instrument for detecting particles suspended in clouds. The goal is to search for organic chemicals in clouds and explore their habitability. The probe will spend about 5 minutes and 30 seconds falling through the upper atmosphere, then continuing to perfectly transmit data as it descends further toward the surface.

“The mission is the first opportunity to directly probe Venus cloud particles in nearly four decades,” states the paper, Posted this week, describing the structure of the task. “Even with the limitations of mass, data rate, and limited time in Venus’s atmosphere, scientific progress is possible.”

Smaller missiles, cheaper missions

In recent years, scientists and engineers at NASA, as well as in academia and industry, She was looking at him The miniaturization of satellite technology, and the abundance of smaller, less expensive rockets, to expand the possibilities for automated exploration of the solar system. NASA achieved a significant milestone in 2018 when a pair of CubeSats built by the space agency along with the InSight mission were launched. In space, the two small satellites MarCO-A and MarCO-B deployed their solar arrays, settled down, headed toward the sun, and then traveled to Mars.

However, a small, specially developed and launched mission to Venus would represent another step entirely. No private company has sent a spacecraft directly to another world in the solar system beyond the moon. This highly ambitious effort may fail. But why not try? This appears to be Beck’s position.

Rocket Lab is currently funding the launch and spacecraft directly, which will likely cost a few tens of millions of dollars. “There is some philanthropic funding in the works for various important aspects, but it is too early to discuss this in detail at this time,” said Morgan Bailey, a company spokeswoman.

So here’s a big game-changing bet by Beck on his little Electron rocket. Earlier this year, he and his company already Submit a CAPSTONE mission To the Moon for NASA and Advanced Space. If Beck succeeds in the Venus mission, he will surely attract the attention of scientists, NASA, and others interested in what could be a promising new era of low-cost and rapid exploration of the solar system.

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