Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Rocket Lab's Private Mission to Venus Delayed

Back in 2020, Rocket Lab announced plans to launch the first private mission to Venus.  While it hasn't been talked about - not just "not much", but "not at all" that I can vouch for - the mission has apparently slipped from it's original launch goal until 2025 as noted in a report in Space.com today.  If it had been being prepped we would have known by now because the launch was to have been last month. 

The reason appears to be that they're just too busy with their increasing launch cadence and other plans (Neutron) but that's not sure.

"Our focus right now is on delivering customer missions as a priority," a Rocket Lab spokesperson told the website, without offering a detailed explanation for the delay. January 2025 was the original backup launch window for the Venus probe, according to the MIT Technology Review.

The small probe (40 cm or < 16" diameter) will be propelled to Venus by a Photon upper stage, the same upper stage used to send the CAPSTONE satellite to lunar orbit after last year's June 28th launch (middle story of three here), and reaching lunar orbit in November.   It would take five months to make the trip to Venus with the Photon stage, coincidentally virtually the same amount of time as CAPSTONE took to reach its Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit around the moon.  After all that time and effort to get to Venus, the small probe will have just five minutes left to live as it hunts for life. 

In 2020, researchers discovered signs of phosphine in the clouds of Venus. This created quite a stir, because here on Earth, this colorless, flammable toxic compound is found in swamps and other locations as a byproduct of microbial life. 
The purported Venus phosphine find — a claim that remains disputed today — helped renew scientific interest in the second planet from the sun. For example, NASA is developing two Venus missions, DAVINCI and VERITAS, set to launch in the late 2020s and early 2030s.

I should probably note that in addition to arriving at Venus five years or more before those NASA probes, it will be much cheaper than the NASA probes. The mission is funded by Rocket Lab, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and undisclosed philanthropists; estimated to cost just $10 million. This is just 1% of the estimated combined cost for both of NASA's coming Venus missions.  

The probe won't be searching for phosphine, but for other complex organic molecules, measuring their composition, concentration and shapes during its descent through the nightmarish Venusian temperatures.  Data will be sent back to Earth during the descent through the atmosphere.  The probe won't live long in the Venusian environment but is being designed to transmit all the information it can gather. 

Artist's illustration of Rocket Lab's planned Venus probe approaching the planet. The probe is the lighter colored, conical-looking portion in the middle of what appears to be solar panels. (Image credit: Rocket Lab)


  1. Meanwhile, NASA's mission to the Sun is proceeding apace, but with costs skyrocketing as usual.
    Their foremost astronautical experts revealed they plan to go at night.

    1. Didn't I see that in a Far Side cartoon a long time ago?

    2. Probably five minutes after Johnny Carson used it in a monologue.