Launches: Life in Venus clouds? Rocket Lab to check

mechanism in space venus in black background
Launches for August 24, 2022: This artist’s rendering depicts Rocket Labs’ planned probe to the planet Venus, scheduled to launch in 2023. The tiny probe will sample the venusian air for organic molecules as it searches for life. Image from Rocket Lab.

Launches: Life in Venus clouds? Rocket Lab to check

The spunky little aerospace company Rocket Lab has set its sights on Venus, planning a private mission to the solar system’s hottest planet in humanity’s ongoing quest to find out if we’re alone in the universe. A peer-reviewed paper detailing the mission was published earlier this month (August 13, 2022) in the journal Aerospace, and its authors are aiming high:

Rocket Lab has made the engineering and financial commitment to fly a private mission to Venus, with a goal of launching in 2023, to help answer the question “Are we alone in the universe?”

The probe they’re sending will weigh just 1 kg (2.2 pounds) and spend only five minutes speeding through the venusian atmosphere, taking samples of the air as it goes. Rocket Lab said it plans to launch in May of 2023, with a backup window in December. The probe will search for signs of organic molecules that could indicate the presence of extraterrestrial life.

Rocket Lab also went to the moon

Besides furthering humanity’s understanding of Earth’s near twin as it searches for conditions that could foster life, the mission is also intended to “mature” Rocket Lab’s Photon interplanetary spacecraft, which will shoot the probe into its trans-Venus injection trajectory after being sent aloft aboard one of the company’s Electron launch vehicles.

This won’t be the first time a Photon has left the planet. Earlier this year, while the attention of the community of spaceflight fans was focused on SpaceX’s Starship and NASA’s Artemis 1 lunar mission preparations, Rocket Lab sent a probe to the moon, a preliminary mission for the Photon intended to prepare for humanity’s permanent colonization of our natural satellite, as described in the paper laying out the Venus mission parameters:

The high-energy Photon, developed by Rocket Lab for the NASA CAPSTONE mission that successfully launched to the moon in June 2022 and also being matured for the NASA Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers (ESCAPADE) mission launching to Mars in 2024, is a self-sufficient small spacecraft capable of long-duration interplanetary cruise.


Phosphine on Venus: Droplets with small creatures floating in a haze.
Artist’s concept of life floating in droplets in Venus’ atmosphere. Image via MIT.

Bottom line: The aerospace company Rocket Lab will launch a private mission to probe the atmosphere of Venus for signs of life in 2023. Previously, the company successfully sent the CAPSTONE probe to the moon for NASA.


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