Capitalism in space: According to its founder and CEO Peter Beck, the smallsat rocket company Rocket Lab is now planning a private Venus mission to be launched in 2023.
The 2023 mission will employ Rocket Lab’s two-stage Electron booster and Photon satellite bus. The 57-foot-tall (17 meters) Electron is a viable option for interplanetary missions now, thanks to recent advances in battery technology that boost the performance of the rocket’s Rutherford engines. With that improvement, Electron is now capable of lofting up to 660 lbs. (300 kilograms) of payload to low-Earth orbit instead of 500 lbs. (225 kg), Rocket Lab representatives have said.
“It opens the window for Venus, and it opens the window for recovery,” Beck said. (The company is working to recover and reuse the Electron’s first stage. Returning boosters will make guided re-entries to Earth’s atmosphere, which will require more fuel, which in turn will require more powerful engines to get the added weight off the ground.)
Photon, which has yet to make its spaceflight debut, won’t descend into Venus’ sulfurous skies on the coming mission. The current plan calls for the spacecraft to deploy one or more smaller probes into the planet’s atmosphere, Beck wrote in a Twitter post on Aug. 4.
There is a certain irony here, if Beck launches a private interplanetary science mission ahead of Elon Musk. Musk created the rocket company SpaceX expressly because he wanted to do a private science mission to Mars and needed an affordable rocket to do it. Since then he has been so focused on making that rocket company succeed he has not devoted any effort to that initial science mission concept. Beck, who came much later, now appears set to beat Musk to this first milestone.
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