Researchers mulling inflatable airship VAMP for flying the skies of Venus

Mar 04, 2014 by Bob Yirka report
Researchers mulling inflatable airship VAMP for flying the skies of Venus
VAMP released from Venus orbiting spacecraft and inflating exoatmospherically for benign entry.

(Phys.org) —Researchers at Northrup Grumman and L'Garde are mulling the idea of a Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform (VAMP) inflatable spacecraft—they have published an outline of their idea on NASA's web site.

The traditional approach to sending research craft to other planets, such as Mars, is to build something mechanical and then figure out a way to get it to the planet's surface intact, using a variety of methods (parachute, inflatable protection, etc.). In this new effort, the researchers have come up with a craft that doesn't land on the surface, but instead simply flies around in the planet's atmosphere. To make that happen, they have designed an incredibly light (just 992 pounds) inflatable drone that doesn't require the development of any new technology—that means it could be made relatively inexpensively and could be ready for construction as soon as NASA agrees to pay for it. The team predicts the VAMP could operate for approximately a year before the gas inside is lost.

The overall idea is to carry the drone—VAMP—to Venus using a conventional spaceship. Once there, the VAMP would be deployed while still tethered to its mothership so that it could be filled with a gas, such as hydrogen. Once filled, it would be set loose to fly in the atmosphere—the elevation would depend on how much gear it would be carrying. The VAMP would use engines (to turn propellers) that get their power from solar panels and the heat that escapes from a bit of onboard radioactive plutonium-238 as it decays. At night, the VAMP would serve as a glider making good use of its 151 foot wingspan. Because Venus has such high winds, the team has calculated that the VAMP could circle the planet every six days. The craft could be steered by engineers back on Earth via signals relayed through the mothership.

The basis for suggesting such a mission to Venus is to better understand the planet's atmosphere, which many suggest is similar to what Earth's would be like if it were to succumb to global warming. If the mission proves successful, it would be an almost certainty that other such drones would be sent to Mars, or even the moons of Saturn, offering an entirely new approach to studying our neighbors in the solar system.

Explore further: Researchers find planet-sized space weather explosions at Venus

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Image: Data from Venus

Dec 17, 2012

On Dec. 14, 1962, NASA's Mariner 2 spacecraft sailed close to the shrouded planet Venus, marking the first time any spacecraft had ever successfully made a close-up study of another planet. It flew by Venus ...

House panel discuses Mars 2021 manned flyby mission

Mar 03, 2014

(Phys.org) —The U.S. House of Representative's Science, Space and Technology Committee has met to discuss the virtues and possibility of asking NASA to assist a private foundation in conducting a manned ...

Japan readies space telescope to study atmosphere

Feb 15, 2013

Japan is to send a space telescope into orbit around the Earth to observe Venus, Mars, and Jupiter, officials said on Friday, as they look to unlock the secrets of our own planet's atmosphere.

Recommended for you

The latest observations of interstellar particles

2 hours ago

With all the news about Voyager 1 leaving the heliosphere and entering interstellar space you might think that the probe is the first spacecraft to detect interstellar particles. That isn't entirely true, ...

Hepatitis C virus proteins in space

2 hours ago

Two researchers at Technische Universität München have won the 'International Space Station Research Competition' with their project 'Egypt Against Hepatitis C Virus.' As their prize, the scientists will ...

Very Long Baseline Array takes radio image of Voyager 1

3 hours ago

The image above is a radio image of Voyager 1. It was taken from the Very Long Baseline Array, which is a collection of 10 radio telescopes scattered from Hawaii to the Virgin Islands. It captures the faint ...

Lunar explorers will walk at higher speeds than thought

17 hours ago

Anyone who has seen the movies of Neil Armstrong's first bounding steps on the moon couldn't fail to be intrigued by his unusual walking style. But, contrary to popular belief, the astronaut's peculiar walk ...

User comments : 11

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

baudrunner
3.7 / 5 (6) Mar 04, 2014
The basis for suggesting such a mission to Venus is to better understand the planet's atmosphere, which many suggest is similar to what Earth's would be like if it were to succumb to global warming.
The writer must still be new at writing sensationalist copy for shock value. This is a ridiculous exaggeration.
nkalanaga
5 / 5 (5) Mar 04, 2014
Yes and no. Humans couldn't possibly cause such warming because there isn't enough carbon in the world's fossil fuels. However, in the far future, increasing solar luminosity will, although is a billion years or so off.

Carbonate minerals decompose under heat, and there is enough carbon dioxide in the Earth's limestone etc to produce an atmosphere similar to Venus. Needless to say, we won't be here to worry about it.
Sinister1812
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 05, 2014
What's to stop the acid from burning it away, or the extreme heat? What about the lightning and strong winds? I hope it's made from strong material.
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (4) Mar 05, 2014
I'm also wondering how they'll get it stable enough to resist strong winds. Probably this thing is only for extremely high altitudes as the lower you go the more nasty it gets.
The craft could be steered by engineers back on Earth via signals relayed through the mothership

If the wind conditions are variable then the delay time may not be acceptable. The engineers could do little more than point it in a general direction (and the efficacy of that is dubious as the wind will surely determine where this thing goes and where it doesn't much more than any motors it could field)
javjav
2 / 5 (2) Mar 05, 2014
Wouldn't it be more interesting to send it to Mars? once there it could fly into caves. Intriguing holes have been observed that seem to provide access to Mars subsurface caves. If a cave is deep enough it could have a salty water lake, as going down the pressure is higher and also the temperature. In any case those caves are protected from radiation, which is an interesting environment in itself, both to look for present or past live and to find a potential home for a manned mission.
DistortedSignature
4.5 / 5 (2) Mar 05, 2014
@javjay Although they did mention the drone maintaining altitude with gas, wouldn't the thin atmosphere in mars make conventional or blimp like aeronautics impractical? For comparision, Venus has 13,600 times denser atmosphere than Mars.
antialias_physorg
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 05, 2014
Wouldn't it be more interesting to send it to Mars?

Mars atmosphere isn't very dense (only 1% of Earth atmosphere). That makes flying with any amount of payload not impossible but tough. The low gravity helps a bit, though.
The idea has been kicked around a fair bit - even with some prototypes already having been tested.

Flying into caves is probably not a good idea. The chance of a mishap is too high (and remote control out of the question due to time lag and potential loss of signal - even using an outside 'base station' as intermediary)

it could have a salty water lake
At those atmospheric pressures any water that isn't locked in permafrost/ice would probably boil away.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (4) Mar 05, 2014
I'm also wondering how they'll get it stable enough to resist strong winds. Probably this thing is only for extremely high altitudes as the lower you go the more nasty it gets.
I usually like to assume that if the proposal has gotten this far, engrs have done at least enough work to be confident that it is possible.

"For the past year, engineers at aerospace firms Northrop Grumman and L'Garde have been working on an unmanned concept vehicle... Further, no big breakthroughs are required to get VAMP — which remains in the design phase — up and running, team members say... VAMP would then cruise through Venus' skies at altitudes ranging between 34 miles and 43 miles (55 to 70 kilometers), using propellers to get high up during the day and floating passively at lower altitudes after sunset."

-As we see they have indeed given a great deal of thought and effort. Yes?

"On the day side [of Venus] the cloud deck has a thickness of 20 km and extends up to about 65 km"
TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (4) Mar 05, 2014
Flying into caves is probably not a good idea. The chance of a mishap is too high (and remote control out of the question due to time lag and potential loss of signal - even using an outside 'base station' as intermediary)
Here is some of what NASA is actually considering re Martian cave exploration:
http://www.space....ion.html
Mars gets enough attention as it is.
Mars is the first place we will be colonizing. Of course it is getting the most attention.
Sinister1812
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 05, 2014
Wouldn't it be more interesting to send it to Mars?


There's an easy answer to that. No.

Mars gets enough attention. They're finally doing something different.
TechnoCreed
4 / 5 (4) Mar 05, 2014
Venusian conditions at 50 kilometer from the planetary surface is not so inhospitable.
http://ntrs.nasa....2668.pdf