Inflatable drone aircraft could soon be bound for Venus


While we have all been oohing and ahhing over NASA's Mars missions, NASA Northrop Grumman and L'Garde have been turning their eyes toward Venus and beyond.

The craft they intend to use is a light weight, inflatable drone called the Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform (VAMP). It would be carried into Venus' atmosphere by a carrier craft, would inflate itself with hydrogen or some other light weight gas and then detach itself from the carrier and fly by a combination of powered flight and floating in the Venusian atmosphere.

Researchers believe that the craft can remain airborne for up to a year, sending data back to scientists on Earth. A more detailed explanation of the concepts and design behind VAMP can be found, in PDF format, on the NASA website.

Venus is, somewhat, 'Earthlike' in size and location. It is the second brightest object in the might sky after the Moon, and is 90% the size of the Earth. That, however, is where the similarities end. With a mean surface temperature of 735 K (462 °C; 863 °F), no moon, no known water, an atmosphere that is 96% carbon dioxide and a thin layer of clouds made of sulfuric acid it is far less hospitable than Mars. It is unlikely to ever see a colony or even a manned mission unless we someday get very good at terraforming.

While Venus might not be an ideal vacation spot it is close to us and it is there which means we have to take a look at it and get a better sense of what is there and what makes it the way it is. If the VAMP project is successful it could be just the first of many space exploration missions for inflatable drones.

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