NASA has a whole lot of ideas, but not a whole lot of money, so there are more than a few options vying to be the space agency’s next big project. It might not make the cut, but this Venus-aimed space plane might be one of the coolest.
Developed by Northrop Grumman, the proposed Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform (VAMP) project is still relatively in its infancy. The company, however, feels confident the proposal could barrel ahead in development and make a play for millions of dollars in funding as part of NASA’s New Frontiers planetary science competition. Many projects will be competing for the prize, and whichever one wins must be ready to launch by 2021.
VAMP is basically an inflatable, propeller-powered aircraft, the likes of which have never really been tested outside of a 2008 and 2010 tech demo for wings designed for use on a defunct DARPA project (a reconnaissance drone that could be launched from anywhere).
Northrop saw the potential in the tech and decided to repurpose it for a potential Venus mission. A potential mission would likely task the craft to fly approximately 30-35 miles above the planet’s surface, where the unforgiving, sulfurous atmosphere isn’t quite as harsh.
As Space notes, the project still has a lot of ground to make up if they hope to make the cut for NASA funding, but regardless, it represents a fascinating concept to potentially explore our mysterious neighbor to the sunny side.
Check out some of the prototype, inflatable wing designs below.