Rocket Lab Will Self-Fund a Mission To Search For Life In the Clouds of Venus

FallOutBoyTonto shares a report from Ars Technica: Never let it be said that Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck lacks a flamboyant streak. […] On Tuesday evening Rocket Lab announced that it will self-fund the development of a small spacecraft, and its launch, that will send a tiny probe flying through the clouds of Venus for about 5 minutes, at an altitude of 48 to 60 km. Beck has joined up with several noted planetary scientists, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Sara Seager, to design this mission. Electron will deliver the spacecraft into a 165 km orbit above Earth, where the rocket’s high-energy Photon upper stage will perform a number of burns to raise the spacecraft’s orbit and reach escape velocity. Assuming a May 2023 launch — there is a backup opportunity in January 2025 — the spacecraft would reach Venus in October 2023. Once there, Photon would deploy a small, approximately 20 kg probe into the Venusian atmosphere.

The spacecraft will be tiny, as deep-space probes go, containing a 1 kg scientific payload consisting of an autofluorescing nephelometer, which is an instrument to detect suspended particles in the clouds. The goal is to search for organic chemicals in the clouds and explore their habitability. The probe will spend about 5 minutes and 30 seconds falling through the upper atmosphere, and then ideally continue transmitting data as it descends further toward the surface. “The mission is the first opportunity to probe the Venus cloud particles directly in nearly four decades,” states a paper, published this week, describing the mission architecture. “Even with the mass and data rate constraints and the limited time in the Venus atmosphere, breakthrough science is possible.”

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