There is more than 1 way to send a spaceship to Venus

Mars has been a bell for the planet in the last few decades but that is not to say that other planets in the solar system, such as Venus, have not had a good chance over the years. .

NASA finally sent a spacecraft into the orbit of its closest neighbor to Earth in 1990. Russia, the former Soviet Union, sent full successful missions to Venus, and Japan now has an orbiter there.

The tricky part is putting a robotic mission to the surface. Most have only lasted for a few hours. So why send a robot to a planet to destroy it? The short answer: Maybe it tells us more about our home planet.

[RELATED EPISODE: The curious tale of searching for signs of life on Venus]

“Why is there such a different path as we have taken here on Earth?” NASA Discovery Program chief scientist Thomas Wagner said.

It used to be – in the US – NASA was the only way to fund and send a robotic mission to another world but no more. Commercial space companies such as Rocket Lab are funding and designing their own missions in an unprecedented time.

Rocket Lab Head Peter Beck has put his sights on Venus for a long time.

“I’ve always been interested in Venus for two reasons,” Beck said. “Venus is a very close analogue to Earth, you know, the same mass, of the same size. But you know, it’s a planet that has completely changed climate change. And I think there’s a lot we can learn from that.

At least 800 million years ago Venus was a very different planet than it is today.

Rocket Lab plans to launch its first Venusian private mission in 2023, a very fast turnaround time for a planetary mission.

The Photon Rocket Lab spacecraft was handed over to Venus.  The company wants to launch its first robotic mission to Venus in 2023. (Image credit: Rocket Lab)
The Photon Rocket Lab spacecraft was handed over to Venus. The company wants to launch its first robotic mission to Venus in 2023. (Image Credit: Rocket Lab) (Rocket Lab)

At the same time, NASA is considering funding its own missions to the planet that is considered Earth’s twin.

NASA’s Discovery Program selects and launches small to medium-sized missions to study our solar system. Two Venus missions and two similar missions are currently being considered, one designed to study the moon Jupiter Io and another to the Triton moon Neptune.

Under this program, these spacecraft typically cost less than $ 500 million to design, build, and deploy to its destination. That’s not a chump change – but compared to NASA ‘s biggest robotic missions — so – called flagship or strategic missions — which cost several billion dollars, the cost is relatively small.

The goal of Discovery is fundamental to understanding our solar system and how we got here.

The process of submitting a proposal to NASA hopes that the space agency will knock down your mission but a short process but what the discovery chief scientist says is a benefit. in participating.

Here’s what a robotic mission looks like to launch another planet, according to Wagner:

“It simply came to our notice then. Someone enters a lab somewhere and says, ‘oh, you make this trick impossible to measure here in the lab with a staff of people. technology and all the space and power you want. And then they say, ‘I got a good idea, let’ s do this very tiny, let ‘s let it on a spaceship so that it can survive a rocket explosion, where it will be shaken, and it will take up to four G and go around, we put it through space for four or five years. Let radiation attack it. And then see if we can figure out how to get to this point and make those measurements as good or better than you did in the lab here. ‘”

By offering this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to many scientists to submit proposals, Wagner says NASA hopes to present the best ideas, and the most innovative approaches. drew.

Every few years, the best and brightest submit submissions to NASA with their ideas to study another world or group of our solar system.

Johns Hopkins University planetary scientist Dr. Sarah Horst has been involved in this selection process under NASA’s Frontier Program. She is a scientist on NASA ‘s Dragonfly mission to the Saturn moon Titan, launching earlier than 2026.

“You write a proposal with a group of people. It’s not just scientists, but also engineers, project managers, people who measure budgets and try to find out how much things will cost, ”said Horst.

There is also a trade off to send a small spaceship to another world.

“We spend a lot of time thinking about exactly what our science questions are, and making sure our spacecraft can answer those science questions,” Horst said. “But that often means there are other questions we can’t answer, because of the choices we’ve made. ”

On this week ‘s program of Space Curious, a podcast with WKMG and Graham Media, we find out how NASA makes the difficult choices – choosing which missions to send to another world and how Rocket Lab intends to be the first private company to send a spacecraft to Venus.

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