Venus is often viewed as Earth’s sister planet, or perhaps more accurately its ugly sister. This familial comparison stems from their approximately equal mass and physical size. But compared to the relatively benign and hospitable surface conditions that prevail on Earth, Venus is the stuff of nightmares. The planet has a surface temperature of 464 °C, sufficient to melt lead, tin and zinc! The pressure at the surface is a spacecraft crushing 92 bars. To add to this hellish vision, its deep, thick clouds are composed principally of sulphuric acid, mixed with water.
It turns out Venus holds the key to unlocking the origin and early evolution of our Solar System. All we need to do is go there and bring back a chunk of Venus so that we can study it on Earth. And here is the neat thing. It really would not be that difficult or expensive, relatively speaking! All the details are in our new paper, which is open access. We think it will change your views on what should be the next step in Solar System exploration.
Schematic diagram showing the possible stages of a “Grab and Go” sample recovery mission from the surface of Venus. The original spacecraft would consist of an orbiter and lander module. The orbiter (1) passes over the lander every 93 mins. Once the lander has detached from the orbiter (2) it descends to the surface slowed by parachutes and possibly also rocket motors. On the surface sampling operations take place (3). The lander makes use of multiple sampling devices, including a scoop, drill and “vacuum cleaner”. Sample material is transferred to the ascent stage (4) which consists of a three part rocket (individual stages not shown). The ascent rocket is lifted to a height of 66 km by a helium balloon (5). The balloon is jettisoned and the ascent rocket (6) takes the sample back to the orbiter (7). In an extended mission scenario, a cloud-level balloon platform (8) could also be deployed, which would carry a suite of instruments to undertake detailed analysis of the venusian atmosphere. Data from the cloud-level balloon platform would be transmitted to the orbiter.
Upper image: Fig. 1 Global view of the surface of Venus constructed from Magellan synthetic aperture radar mosaics and
Pioneer Venus Orbiter data. Simulated colour used to enhance small-scale structure. Image produced by the
Solar System Visualization project and the Magellan science team JPL. (Image credit: NASA/JPL)