On December 15, 1984, the Soviet Union in collaboration with European countries France, Poland, Hungary, Germany, and others launched Vega 1. Six days later, its identical sister craft Vega 2 launched as well. The Vega program was created to explore Venus and included a fly-by past Halley’s Comet, gathering up-close images. Both spacecrafts successfully completed their missions, deploying entry probes to Venus on June 11 and 15 of 1985 before continuing on to intercept Halley’s Comet on March 6 and 9 of 1986.
Now, 36 years later, only 10 other Venus missions have been conducted. In the nearly four decades that have elapsed, space exploration missions have largely revolved around potential manned missions, as well as human habitation, on Mars. Between NASA’s 2015 discovery of liquid water on Mars’s surface and the success of SpaceX in recent years, it’s little surprise as to why.But arecent discovery on Venus should have stakeholders planning more missions to our sister planet soon.
This past September, NASA announced the discovery of phosphine clouds on Venus. The find, a possible indication of life on Venus, renewed public and private interest in future missions to further explore Earth’s sister planet.NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted “It’s time to prioritize Venus.”
There are a number of factors that make missions to Venus difficult. With such an emphasis on Mars in recent decades, NASA has already outlined most of its missions for its Moon To Mars program, including construction of The Gateway: a permanent outpost that will remain in Lunar orbit to assist with future manned missions. Much of the data we have on Venus, including topography maps and dating of the planet’s surface, is extremely limited, making new missions to our sister planet much less likely to succeed.
A renewed hope for prioritizing Venusmay lie in the minds of entrepreneurs akin to Elon Musk and private companies like SpaceX forming public-private partnerships with NASA and other space agencies.
One such innovator is Tim Chrisman, founder of Foundation For The Future. A former officer in the U.S. Army, Chrisman is no stranger to the importance of public-private partnerships. In creating Foundation For The Future, he hopes to bridge the gap between civil space and federal policymakers and create an ecosystem of commerce for companies, innovators and leaders that supports developmentof technology and thought leadership for broader space exploration and discovery.
Foundation For The Future’s primary proposal is the Space Corporation Enterprise (SPACE) to develop space infrastructure that promotes growth in the industry through private-public partnerships. In doing so, SPACE seeks to fund the construction of a space access gateway system that remains secure, efficient and sustainable while promoting further private-public partnerships in space exploration.With regards to Venus, SPACE could prove a valuable and necessary step in the right direction.
The Venitian atmosphere has been compared to Earth’s for decades, with some astronomers citing the planet as an “Earth gone wrong” in comparison to the effects of climate change. Explorers have found a roughly 50-kilometer sized “sweet spot” in Venus’s atmosphere where conditions are more temperate and more likely to harbor forms of life. Future missions to Venus funded and developed by private-public partnerships to probe, explore and analyze conditions within the planet’s atmosphere may help kickstart climate change response here on Earth. Deploying balloons similar to those used in the Vega 1 & 2 spacecrafts may be the best way to collect more data about Venus’s surface and atmosphere.
Modern balloons could linger in the atmosphere of Venus for much longercompared to their predecessors.