Inflatable Sky Cruiser Could Be The Next Explorer of Venus’ Atmosphere
By Lenny Pierce on March 4, 2014
Earth’s sister is totally hot. Sister planet, that is, and when we say “hot,” we’re talking about an average temperature of 864 degrees Fahrenheit. This, along with a crazy-thick atmosphere, has made exploration of Venus pretty difficult thus far. A new design for a robotic airship, however, could facilitate longer and more detailed observations of Venus than ever before.
The aerospace firms Northrop Grumman and L’Garde are working on a new glider-like design called the Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform, or VAMP, which could cruise through the Venus atmosphere carrying up to a 440 lb. payload in scientific instruments.
Putting VAMP into orbit around Venus would go something like this: A carrier spacecraft would deliver the deflated VAMP to Venus, deploy the VAMP, and let it inflate with a buoyant gas such as hydrogen, fully stretching out its 151 ft wing span. Once VAMP is fully-floatable, it would detach from the carrier and begin its gentle drift into the Venus atmosphere. VAMP would then cruise the skies of Venus at about 34-43 miles above the surface. Propellers would help it get to the higher range of this spectrum during the day, and down to the lower end at night.
In addition to scorching surface temps, Venus also has some pretty blustery atmospheric conditions which could actually help VAMP carry out its reconnaissance. The Venus wind is strong and consistent enough to sail VAMP around the planet just about every six days. But this joyride can’t last forever. By the end of a year, VAMP would lose enough of its life-gas to continue its orbit.
Venus’ atmosphere is so dense and laden with CO2 that it creates a greenhouse effect, heating it to higher temperatures than Mercury, even though Mercury is actually closer to the sun. (ESA/MPS/DLR/IDA)
Scientists hope a VAMP mission could unveil even more secrets about Venus’ history. Billions of years ago the planet could have supported life and now its too hot to even support one of our rovers. Researchers would love to know more about how that metamorphosis took place. VAMP’s design could be applied to other planets as well. The concept behind VAMP could make for an easier way to drop rovers off on the friendlier terrestrial surfaces of Mars and/or Saturn’s moon Titan.