Solar-powered drone by Northrop Grumman, could survey alien planets for months. Artist’s concept of an inflatable airship cruising through the skies of Saturn’s huge moon Titan. Image © Northrop Grumman
Aerospace firms Northrop Grumman and L’Garde have been developing a Venus-specific version of this vehicle called VAMP (short for Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform).
According to Northrop Grumman:
Our initial feasibility study identified a promising approach for a maneuverable Venus air vehicle that could explore the upper Venus atmosphere with the following characteristics:
–It is a semi-buoyant (6-12%) powered aircraft capable of a mission lifetime of months
–The vehicle deploys/inflates in orbit and has a benign entry into Venus, requiring no aeroshell
–It has the ability to fly at altitudes between 55 and 70 km and cover a wide range of latitude, and in the event of a safe mode entry, will float at a safe altitude until recovered.
Technology development plans for 2013:
–Complete trade studies and select initial “point design” for detailed development
–Detailed architecture of VAMP, companion spacecraft, and their interaction (e.g. data relay to Earth, navigation of VAMP)
–Extensive stowing and deployment study, including envelope, propellers, etc
–Refine flight plan for “point design,” including most accurate Venus atmospheric model possible
–Study of envelope and solar panel materials, followed by lab testing
–If possible, fabricate and test behavior of small scale model in wind tunnels / relevant environments
source Northrop Grumman