Image credit: Northrop-Grumman
Posted: Mar 03 2014 11:53 AM By Kieran Dickson
With temperatures averaging 864 degrees Fahrenheit, Venus is a tough nut to crack when it comes to exploration solutions, but a group of engineers may have developed an ingenious solution. Designed by a team at Northrop-Grumman and L'Garde, The Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform (VAMP) is a powered inflatable aircraft that could stay afloat in the harsh confines of Venus's atmosphere for up to a year, allowing an unprecedented opportunity to collect data on this nearby and mysterious planet.
What is most amazing about the VAMP project is that if it got the right investment it could launch right now. Everything involved with VAMP's mission architecture is achievable with present day technologies, something that is incredibly rare with such an ambitious space exploration mission.
"There are no major technology unknowns," Kristen Griffin of Northrop Grumman told Space.com. "It really is something that can be developed when the [scientific] community is ready for it."
The VAMP mission would see it taken into Venus's atmosphere on the back of a carrier craft before detaching and using powered flight to move into a desired altitude. Once it arrives at this predetermined point, the inflated VAMP will be able to cruise along the powerful winds that circumnavigate the planet. These winds will sweep VAMP around Venus once every 6 days for up to a year and beyond, giving the airship ample opportunity to gather data. That data will be fed back to a dedicated accompanying satellite that will track VAMP's every move throughout its mission.
This kind of up close and personal mission to Venus could shed some much-needed light on the planet's history. While it may be a frighteningly harsh environment now, scientists theorize that it may have played host to a potentially life-supporting atmosphere. Discovering what caused this transformation could revolutionize the way we look at planetary evolution while delivering insights that could aid the development of future planetary science missions. Indeed, should a mission such as VAMP get off the ground and deliver some successful results, similar inflatable airships could be dispatched to collect data on more of our solar system's mysterious bodies like Saturn's moon, Titan.