American company Rocket Lab could be just over a year away from launching a private mission to Venus. “The mission might even be launched as early as December 30, 2024” stated Christophe Mandy. Chief Engineer of the Interplanetary Mission System at the California-based company confirmed this at a meeting of NASA‘s Venus Exploration Analysis Group on October 30.
Venus Life Finder
Subsequently, Rocket Lab clarified that the mission’s launch window extends until 2025 and that the launch date is yet to be determined. The 315-kilogram Venus Life Finder spacecraft will be launched aboard a Rocket Lab Electron rocket.
The flight plan involves the carrier taking the lander into low Earth orbit first. Subsequently, the Venus Life Finder will perform a series of maneuvers to engage in lunar gravity assists. Afterward, Rocket Lab’s lander will head into deep space for a journey of about a year and a half to the planet Venus.
Once on Venus, the Venus Life Finder will release a small probe that will descend into the planet’s atmosphere. There, temperatures are much colder than its scorching surface, and the probe will be tasked with determining if there are conditions that could support life.
Why Study Venus’s Atmosphere
The concept of life in the clouds of Venus is not new. The novelty lies in searching for habitable conditions or signs of life directly in the planet’s atmosphere. Today’s technological advancements allow for the use of more sophisticated and significantly miniaturized scientific instruments compared to the probes sent into Venus’s atmosphere in the 1980s.
Idea of life in Venus’s atmosphere is highly controversial. The planet’s atmospheric environment is extremely harsh for any form of life. Clouds are a concentration of sulfuric acid, several orders of magnitude more acidic than the most acidic earthly environment.
However, it remains an intriguing planet for the search for signs of life due to the habitable temperatures in the cloud layers. The presence of numerous atmospheric chemical anomalies suggests an unknown chemistry. Furthermore, new laboratory experiments on the organic chemistry of sulfuric acid open up new research possibilities.
Rocket Lab first announced the mission in 2020, anticipating a launch in 2023. The mission was developed in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and receives support from unknown philanthropists. The mission builds upon Rocket Lab’s lunar exploration experience through the CAPSTONE mission. MIT scientists have already planned other future missions, even more ambitious ones, on the planet Venus.