NASA has been testing a prototype aerobot balloon to study Venus’ atmosphere.
1. Preparing for Venus
A prototype for a balloon designed to cruise through the clouds of Venus, has aced two test flights above Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, in July 2022. The major goal behind this balloon is to pair it with a Venus orbiter to study Earth’s sister planet, a scientific mission currently being conducted by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California and the Near Space Corporation in Tillamook, Oregon.
NASA scientists want to see the aerobot traveling on the Venusian winds, floating from east to west, circumnavigating the planet for at least 100 days. The aerobot would serve as a platform for a range of science investigations, from monitoring the atmosphere for acoustic waves generated by venusquakes to analyzing the chemical composition of the clouds.
“We’re extremely happy with the performance of the prototype. It was launched, demonstrated controlled-altitude maneuvers, and was recovered in good condition after both flights,” said Jacob Izraelevitz, the robotics technologist who leads the balloon development as the JPL principal investigator of the flight tests.
Scientists chose the the testing location due to its similarities to Venus’ environment, a world of burning heat, crushing air pressure and excruciating carbon dioxide.
We’ve recorded a mountain of data from these flights and are looking forward to using it to improve our simulation models before exploring our sister planet.Jacob Izraelevitz
2. Soviet balloons in Venus
The only balloon-borne exploration of Venus’ atmosphere to date was part of the twin Soviet Vega 1 and 2 missions that arrived at the planet in 1985. However, the balloons survived for less than two days before running out of battery power. Izraelevitz told space.com that the new balloon is designed to be solar powered, since even with Venus’ thick, cloudy atmosphere, there’s more than enough sunlight to power a solar mission lasting at least 100 days.
3. DAVINCI and VERITAS
Currently, NASA has two missions to Venus underway — DAVINCI (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble Gases, Chemistry and Imaging), which will drop a probe into Venus’ atmosphere in 2031, and VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography and Spectroscopy), which is an orbiter that will launch for Venus in December 2027.
In Europe, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the new EnVision mission in the summer of 2021, which will be ESA’s next Venus orbiter, providing a holistic view of the planet from its inner core to upper atmosphere to determine how and why Venus and Earth evolved so differently.
A new era in the exploration of our closest, yet wildly different, Solar System neighbour awaits us.Günther Hasinger, ESA’s Director of Science
“Together with the newly announced NASA-led Venus missions, we will have an extremely comprehensive science programme at this enigmatic planet well into the next decade,” added Hasinger.