Venus is Earth’s next closest neighbor. Venus is often referred to as Earth’s twin due to its similarity in size, mass and gravity, but something happened over the millennia that turned the planet’s surface into a hot and inhospitable place. However, Venus’ atmosphere’s temperature and pressure, some 50-70 kilometers (30-45 miles) above the surface, are similar to Earth’s temperature and pressure. Scientists believe that studying it will hold the key to understanding what makes Venus’ environment so different and shed light on Earth’s planetary and climate evolution. Understanding the characteristics of Venus will also help them to better categorize the thousands of newly found exo-planets as being like Earth, Mars or Venus.
A Unique Planetary Exploration Vehicle
The Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform (VAMP) air vehicle (AV) is an aeroshell-less hypersonic entry vehicle that transitions to a semi-buoyant, maneuverable, solar powered air vehicle for flight in Venus’ atmosphere. VAMP AV will be transported to Venus by a carrier/orbiter spacecraft. Once the spacecraft is safely in Venus’ orbit, VAMP AV is deployed while still attached to spacecraft. It is then released and enters the atmosphere, floating down toward the planet almost like a falling leaf. Once the AV is in the atmosphere and has completed the entry phase, it transitions to the flight phase of the mission. During the flight phase, the AV flies in the Venus upper and mid cloud layers and collects science data for transmission to Earth. VAMP AV will be capable of orbiting the planet for a long duration, up to a year. The vehicle’s ultra-low ballistic coefficient, atmospheric entry is performed without the aid of a heavy aeroshell, allowing it to hold about 100 pounds of instruments that will track clouds and atmosphere and send data back to Earth. VAMP is the first application of the Lifting Entry Atmospheric Flight (LEAF) family of vehicles designed as atmospheric rovers.
Capabilities and Experience
With its delta-shape, VAMP strongly resembles Northrop Grumman’s historic Flying Wing, B-2 Spirit and today’s X-47B unmanned aerial vehicle. The concept grew from the company’s extensive investment and history in aircraft, autonomous air vehicles, space missions, and large deployable and reentry systems. This experience contributes to the development of a unique planetary exploration vehicle. Our partner on this program is L’Garde Inc., an expert in the development of lightweight deployable structure for space applications.