Rocket Lab delays its Venus atmospheric probe mission

Last year, Rocket Lab announced that it would embark on an ambitious mission to send a small probe to Venus to hunt for organic molecules in its atmosphere. The launch was supposed to happen in May 2023, but now Rocket Lab has confirmed that it’s “not imminent,” TechCrunch has reported. While company didn’t provide a new date, a research paper published in July 2022 states that a “backup launch window is available in January 2025.” 

News of the mission flew under the radar, as it were, but it’s rather ambitious. Rocket Lab plans to use its Electron booster and Photon spacecraft, sending a small probe into Venus’s cloud layer about 30-37 miles up, where temperatures are Earth-like. (Thanks to the planet’s greenhouse effect, temperatures on the surface are greater than 900 degrees F and pressure more than 75 Earth atmospheres.)

Rocket Lab

Once there, the tiny 40 centimeter diameter probe will search for organic molecules or other clues that the atmosphere could support life. Venus came into the news back in 2020 after researchers claimed to spot signs of phosphine, a chemical that’s typically produced by living organisms. While controversial, the findings sparked a new interest in the Venus atmosphere as a possible source for life, and Rocket Lab’s mission is centered around just that. 

At the same time, it’s a way for the company to show off its Photon spacecraft designed to go beyond Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars. Last year, Rocket Lab successfully launched Photon on NASA’s CAPSTONE mission, designed to verify the orbital stability of the planned Lunar Gateway space station. The lunar satellite spent nearly six months in orbit and flew within 1,000 miles of the Moon’s North Pole in a so-called near-rectilinear halo orbit. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at 

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