Updated September 25th, 2022 at 22:45 IST

Rocket Lab's Venus probe will have just 5 minutes to hunt for life; here's why

Rocket Lab is planning to launch world's 1st private mission to Venus in May 2023 but the probe being sent will have just five minutes to hunt life. Read how.

Reported by: Harsh Vardhan
Image: Rocket Lab | Image:self

In August this year, Rocket Lab announced that it will launch a probe to Venus in May 2023, making it the world’s first-ever private mission to the planet. Being developed at an estimated cost of $10 million, the mission is backed by Rocket Lab and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and includes a probe weighing 20 kg. 

In an official statement released on August 17, the New Zealand-based rocket company revealed that the mission’s objective would be finding signs of life in the Venusian atmosphere by dropping the probe through it. However, the instrument will have just five minutes to do so before it hits the planet's surface. Venus has caught the attention of scientists ever since Phosphine was detected in its atmosphere, an element that is created through biological processes here on Earth. 

Mission profile

The probe is targeted for launch next year and Rocket Lab has developed a multi-purpose Photon spacecraft that will throw the instrument into the Venusian atmosphere. The company used the same class of spacecraft to send NASA's CAPSTONE CubeSat to the Moon. According to the mission profile, the probe, which will arrive at Venus in October 2023 if launched in May next year, will be released by the Photon spacecraft after its arrival. Following its release, the spacecraft, equipped with a heat shield will hit the Venusian atmosphere at a speed of 40,000 kilometres per hour.

Measuring 15 inches across, the probe will carry out a close-up inspection of Venus’s clouds using a device called the autofluorescing nephelometer. A report by MIT's Technology Review says that the device will flash an ultraviolet laser on droplets in Venus’s atmosphere to determine the composition of molecules inside them. "We’re going to look for organic particles inside the cloud droplets,” Sara Seager from MIT said in a statement. 

Although the discovery of organic molecules, which can also be created through non-biological processes, would not ensure finding signs of life, Seager said it would be a step “toward us considering Venus as a potentially habitable environment". What's interesting, however, is that the probe will have just five minutes to conduct the experiments as it will drop at a high speed toward the surface. An extension of the mission depends only if it survives after hitting the ground. 

Apart from Rocket Lab, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have also planned three missions to Venus. China and India are also in line to launch their own investigations to learn more about the dreadful planet. India's mission, which is named Shukrayaan, is currently facing developmental issues owing to the deteriorating relations between ISRO's partners Russia and France as a result of the Ukraine crisis. Tap here to read more. 


Published September 25th, 2022 at 22:45 IST