Scientists are eager to learn more about Earth's "sister planet," and a new airship being developed by engineers at Northrop Grumman and L'Garde could help make that happen. The Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform, or VAMP, is described by Space.com as a large but extremely light "inflatable" unmanned "sky rover" that could explore Venus' atmosphere for as long as a year. VAMP is still in the design phase, but it would require no major technology breakthroughs to get the 992-pound aircraft working, researchers say. It would be carried into Venus' orbit via spacecraft, then inflated and released, spiraling down to the atmosphere smoothly, slowly, and relatively safely.
Unlike the "seven minutes of terror" that accompanied the Curiosity rover's Mars landing, "this would be more like an hour and a half of trepidation," a Northrop Grumman engineer tells Space.com. It would be able to haul anywhere from 44 pounds to 440 pounds of scientific gear, depending on how high scientists want it to fly (altitudes between 34 miles and 43 miles would be possible; it would rely on powered propellers to reach higher altitudes during the day, then use its 151-foot wingspan to passively float a few miles below at night). Data would be sent back to the carrier spacecraft and then to Earth—until the craft eventually loses its buoyancy and its mission comes to an end.