Drone-maker reveals blimp plans for Venus' skies

Venus might not be top of the list for manned missions, but a flock of floating explorers – part drone, part blimp – for its atmosphere are are on the drawing board. Drone-maker Northrop Grumman wants to send its Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform (VAMP) concept, a long-lived, maneuverable, semi-buoyant research platform that would soar through Venus' skies around 30-40 miles up, to the inhospitable planet, with the aim of using data there to figure out how life here on Earth may have evolved.

VAMP is what Northrop Grumman describes as a Lifting Entry/Atmospheric Flight (LEAF) vehicle, intended to act as a floating lab that could potentially stat aloft for a year at a time.

As well as Venus, the list of potential candidates includes Mars and the moon Titan, not to mention Earth itself. However, Northrop Grumman believes Venus is a good place to start because of its similarities in size and mass to our own planet.

Of course, having a good idea for a bubble of equipment is a long way from a solid plan, and so the company has put together the so-called VAMP Science Advisory Board. Made up of planetary scientists from America and Europe, its remit will be to figure out the specific scientific goals, measurement requirements, and potential instrumentation for the VAMP craft.

Resembling a single-wing delta, similar to some of Northrop Grumman's existing drone designs like the clandestine RQ-180, the VAMP would inflate in orbit of Venus and then float, leaf-like, into the atmosphere.

Maneuvering would be courtesy of integrated propellers, powered by solar energy, and the engineers believe it could run for more than twelve months.

When, exactly, the first such craft could actually begin the long journey to Venus is unclear at this stage, however.

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