SpaceX might have its eye on Mars, but Rocket Lab is likely to become the first private company to reach Venus and explore its clouds for habitability. NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) selected three new missions to explore the planet but they’re expected to return results in the later 2020s or 2030s. However, Peter Beck, the CEO of the New Zealand–based launch company Rocket Lab, was contacted by a group of MIT scientists to launch one of the company’s rockets in 2023 to hunt for life on Venus much sooner. The details of the mission have now been published and it says that the spacecraft will have just five minutes in the clouds of Venus to collect data and radio them back to Earth as it plummets towards the surface. The details also shared that the additional data could be collected below the clouds, but only if it survives- the chances are negligible.
The rocket is currently being developed by a team of fewer than 30 people, led by Sara Seager at MIT. The rocket is speculated to be launched as soon as May 2023 and would take five months to reach Venus, arriving in October 2023. “This is the simplest, cheapest, and best thing you could do to try and make a great discovery,” says Seager.
As shared by Nature.com, the spacecraft is small, weighing just 45 pounds and measuring 15 inches across. It has a cone-shaped design with a heat shield at the front, to bear the brunt of the intense heat generated by the Photon craft before arrival. It will hit the Venusian atmosphere at 40,000 kilometres per hour.
The reports further suggest that there will be no camera on board to take images. “We have to be very, very frugal with the data that we’re sending back,” said Beck.
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