Venus is an incredibly hot and inhospitable planet that has claimed the lives of several space probes, making it incredibly difficult to study. Despite that, NASA hopes to investigate the planet in the relatively near future in order to better understand its history and what made the planet’s environment change so drastically during its life. Balloons may be the key to this mission.
From the 1960s to the 1980s, the Soviet Union sent a total of nine probes to Venus, all of which were lost within around two hours of landing. The destruction was due in part to how inhospitable the planet has become. Though it once likely had an environment similar to what we have on Earth today, it now exists as a blistering 900-degree planet with an atmosphere 90 times denser than that of Earth, plus it is full of corrosive sulfuric clouds.
Studying Venus will help researchers understand why and how it transformed from a planet similar to Earth into one home to many volcanoes, huge mountains, and the hottest temperature in our solar system. Orbiters that remain in the space around the planet would be one way to study the celestial body, but they would have many limitations. That’s where the balloons may come in.
NASA JPL detailed the idea last week, explaining that balloons could carry instruments and ride the planet’s wind to gather data on the hot planet below. The information could then be delivered to an orbiter near the planet, which would then send the information back to humans on Earth. Both lander and balloon prototypes have been worked on, but nothing has been finalized at this time.
NASA may one day develop a ‘hot technology’ that results in a lander capable of operating for days or weeks on the planet. Using present technology, however, JPL researchers explain that a lander would likely fail within just a few hours due to the intense heat. JPL is home to the Large Venus Test Chamber, a system that mimics Venus’s oppressive conditions in order to test these new technologies.