Search for Life on Venus Could Begin at Rocket Lab
New Zealand-founded company Rocket Lab may be able to send a small spacecraft to probe the clouds of Venus long before NASA or other space agencies are able to do so, industry journalist Jonathan O’Callaghan writes in a piece for The New York Times.
This month, scientists announced the astonishing discovery of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus. This chemical could have been produced by a biological source, but scientists won’t know for sure without sending a spacecraft to the planet, O’Callahan writes.
As luck would have it, Rocket Lab has been working on such a mission. The company has developed a small satellite, called Photon, that it plans to launch on its own Electron rocket as soon as 2023.
The spacecraft will be designed to fly past Venus and take measurements and pictures, rather than enter orbit. But it will be able to release a small probe weighing 82 pounds into the planet’s atmosphere, taking readings and looking for further evidence of life.
Rocket Lab’s mission now has the exciting prospect of contributing to a major scientific discovery, and changing how researchers conduct planetary exploration. NASA sent astronauts to the Moon. SpaceX wants to land humans on Mars. Is Rocket Lab staking a claim for Venus?
“No,” Beck said, with a laugh. “Venus is hugely alluring. But as far as claiming planets, that’s not what I’m interested in.”
Original article by Jonathan O’Callaghan, The New York Times, September 15, 2020.
Photo by Kieran Fanning.