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Venus balloon prototype notches test flights over Nevada desert

If ever selected to fly to Venus, the balloon would cruise between 30 and 40 miles up, an altitude where conditions are similar to Earth.

Venus has a fearsome reputation as a realm of sweltering heat, oppressive air pressure, and intolerable carbon dioxide. However, the atmosphere of Venus between 30 and 40 miles (50 to 60 kilometers) above the surface is not too distinct from the atmosphere 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) above Black Rock Desert. The air density is roughly the same as that of Earth at this altitude on Venus, where temperatures range from 0 to 65 degrees Celsius or 32 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Overall, it's actually fairly pleasant. These circumstances have given rise to the theory that microbial life may be able to persist in Venus' clouds.

The prototype aerobot, also known as a "aerial robotic balloon," is simply a balloon inside of a balloon and is about 12 feet (4 meters) across. Helium under high pressure, which is less dense than air, is within the outer balloon. The flexible outer balloon is filled with helium by the inner balloon, which is then vented into it to increase the aerobot's overall buoyancy. Helium is simply pumped back into the inner balloon to begin the descent, which causes the outer balloon to deflate.

In a statement, Paul Byrne, a planetary scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who is working on the aerobot, stated, "The success of these test flights is a significant deal for us. "We've successfully tested the technology we'll require to study Venus' clouds."

The aerobot that flew above Black Rock Desert was collaboratively created by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California and the Near Space Corporation in Oregon. It is not a replica of any Venus mission that NASA has already chosen. However, if such a trip were to take off, the aerobot would travel to Venus along with an orbiter spacecraft, which would do its own research while also transmitting data to Earth from the aerobot. The final aerobot design would be around 40 feet in diameter (12 m).

On Venus, balloons have already flown. The twin Vega 1 and 2 missions, which were launched by the Soviet Union in 1985, each placed a balloon in the atmosphere of Venus. Less than two days went by before the balloons' batteries ran out. Izraelevitz claims that the aerobot would be solar-powered because, despite Venus' dense, foggy atmosphere, there is more than enough sunshine between 30 and 40 miles aloft to power a solar mission for at least 100 days. Even the issue of sulfuric acid-laced clouds can be solved, according to Izraelevitz, who pointed out that a different JPL team is working on solar panels that are resistant to acid degradation.

While the aerobot would not require propulsion as it floated through the Venusian clouds, the solar panels would provide power for the array of scientific instruments the aerobot would carry. These tools would include everything from mass spectrometers that could collect and examine atmospheric samples to detectors that could track acoustic waves echoing through the dense atmosphere—possibly from earthquakes on the ground. Life-detecting experiments would also be crucial cargo in light of the recently contentious discovery of phosphine in Venus' atmosphere and the potential biological implications of that discovery.

Currently, NASA is working on two Venus missions: VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography and Spectroscopy), an orbiter that will launch for Venus in December 2027, and DAVINCI (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble Gases, Chemistry, and Imaging), which will send a probe into Venus' atmosphere in 2031. EnVision, a new Venus mission from the European Space Agency, will launch in the early 2030s, and the following decade is already being touted as the "decade of Venus exploration." However, none of the aforementioned trips will include an aerobot, so we'll have to wait a little while longer for our ballooning excursions on Venus.

Nevertheless, when that day comes, the aerobot will be ready.

"We're extremely happy with the performance of the prototype," Izraelevitz said in the statement.

Edited by: Ankit Biswas(

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