The first private mission to Venus will only have five minutes to hunt for life

Although later studies question the discovery of phosphine, early research sparked interest in Venus. In that way, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) chose three new missions to travel to the planet and investigate, among other questions, whether its conditions could have supported life in the past. China and India also plan to send missions to Venus. “Phosphine reminds everyone that [this planet] Colin Wilson at the University of Oxford, one of the deputy scientific leaders on Europe’s Venus mission, EnVision, said.

But most of those missions won’t bear fruit until the late 2020s or into the 2030s. Astronomers want answers now. It’s lucky that happens, says Peter Beck, CEO of New Zealand-based launch company Rocket Lab. Long fascinated by Venus, Beck has been contacted by a group of MIT scientists about a daring mission that could use one of the company’s rockets to hunt for life on Venus sooner. multiple — with a launch in 2023. (A backup launch window available January 2025)

Phosphine or not, scientists think if life exists on Venus, it could be in the form of bacteria inside small drops of sulfuric acid hovering high above the planet. While the surface appears largely unsuitable, with temperatures hot enough to melt lead and pressures similar to those at the bottom of the Earth’s oceans, conditions are about 45 to 60 kilometers above the ground. in the clouds of Venus are considerably more temperate.

Beck said: “I always felt that Venus had a difficult rap. “The discovery of phosphine was the catalyst. We need Venus to find life.”

Mission Details, the first privately funded venture to another planet, has has now been published. Rocket Lab has developed a small multirole spacecraft called the Photon, which is about the size of a dining table, which can be sent to many locations in the solar system. A mission to the moon for NASA is Released in June. For this Venus mission, another Photon spacecraft will be used to hurl a small probe into the planet’s atmosphere.

That probe is currently being developed by a team of less than 30 people, led by Sara Seager at MIT. Launching in May 2023 at the earliest, will take five months to reach Venus, arriving in October 2023. With a budget of less than $10 million, the mission – funded by Rocket Lab, MIT and other partners undisclosed philanthropist – high risk but low cost, only 2% of the price per NASA Venus mission.

“This is the simplest, cheapest, and best thing you can do to try and make a great discovery,” says Seager.

This probe is small, weighing only 45 pounds and measuring 15 inches across, slightly larger than a basketball hoop. Its conical design features a heat shield at the front, which will bear the brunt of the high temperatures generated when the probe – launched by the Photon spacecraft before arrival – hits the stellar atmosphere. Needle at 40,000 kilometers per hour.

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