Rocket Lab's maiden Venus mission to search for extraterrestrial life postponed to 2025

The mission was originally scheduled for May 2023.
Mrigakshi Dixit
Illustration of the company's venus spacecraft.
Illustration of the company's venus spacecraft.

Rocket Lab 

Rocket Lab, a space start-up’s maiden ambitious mission to Venus has now been pushed to 2025. It was originally scheduled for May 2023. 

research paper on this mission highlighted, “The Rocket Lab mission to Venus is a small direct entry probe planned for baseline launch in May 2023 with accommodation for a single ~1 kg instrument. A backup launch window is available in January 2025.”

According to a company spokesperson who spoke to TechCrunch, its current focus is "delivering customer missions." Nevertheless, it is said to be still in the planning stages and will require additional technical development before it can be cleared for launch. 

Maiden mission to Venus

The mission seeks to find evidence of extraterrestrial life on Venus. 

Rocket Lab announced last August that it would send a probe to Venus. However, with such a short time frame, sending a mission to the planet appeared to be nearly impossible. 

The start-up is self-funding this low-cost mission, while the scientific payloads are being developed in collaboration with various organizations and institutes, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. However, the company has not disclosed the entire budget for this mission. 

According to current plans, the company's compact Electron rocket and Photon spacecraft will be used to send a small probe (40 centimeters in diameter) to Venus. The spacecraft will look for organic chemicals in Venus' cloud layers and analyze other atmospheric conditions about 30 feet above the hellish world's surface.

It will carry an autofluorescing nephelometer instrument to measure particles present in clouds. The probe will have much less time to collect atmospheric data. “The probe mission will spend about 5 min in the Venus cloud layers at 48–60 km altitude above the surface and collect in situ measurements,” noted the paper. 

This mission will also put the company's workhorse, high-energy Photon spacecraft, which is designed specifically for deep space missions, to the test. 

“The goal, using an Electron launch vehicle and Photon spacecraft, is to send a probe to around 30 miles’ altitude, where Venus’ atmospheric conditions are closer to those found on Earth. While more than 30 Venus missions have been undertaken, Rocket Lab’s will be the first private exploration of the planet,” the company website mentions. 

Why venus?

Both the Earth and Venus came into existence almost around the same time about 4.6 billion years ago. 

Often referred to as Earth's twin, scientific theories suggest that Venus was once a planet similar to ours and may have been habitable. It could have supported shallow oceans and even favorable temperatures, but it mysteriously transformed into the hellish world we know today. 

Back in 1978, NASA's Pioneer Venus spacecraft discovered evidence of past shallow oceans on Venus's surface. And since then, on and off, Venus has piqued the interest of the scientific space community.

According to one study, Venus may have had shallow oceans on its surface for two to three billion years. However, a catastrophic “resurfacing event” emitted a large amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, rendering Venus inhospitable.