This morning, Grant Bonin (of the UTIAS Space Flight Laboratory) sent me a very interesting JBIS paper from about 6 years ago, discussing a manned-flyby/robotic-telepresence expedition to Venus. In light of the Venus ISRU series, I thought it worth doing a short summary of his excellent JBIS paper.
Some highlights of the proposed mission concept:
- The mission concept would send a team of 4 researchers and a mix of several solar-powered upper atmosphere UAVs/blimps and a few surface rovers to Venus, which would be designed to be teleoperated by the researchers.
- Upon the initial arrival at Venus, the robots would enter the Venusian atmosphere and in the case of the rovers land.
- The researcher’s vehicle would perform a powered polar flyby of Venus, placing itself into an orbit with approximately the same velocity as Venus, but in a plane inclined to Venus’s orbit. This would keep it within 45 light-seconds of Venus for over a year of science operations (giving a worst-case round-trip signal delay of 90s).
- During the science mission operations, a small electric thruster on the researcher’s vehicle would maneuver the spacecraft in a way that as it passed back through the plane of Venus’s orbit twice per orbital year, it would be just outside of Venus’s gravitational sphere of influence.
- After the science period, the electric thrusters would maneuver the researcher’s vehicle to perform another powered flyby of Venus sending it back into an earth-crossing trajectory, for a total round-trip time of 2 earth years.
- The two powered swingby maneuvers require ~250m/s each (with a 300km periapsis altitude), and the four node-shifting maneuvers total less than 1000m/s of delta-V on the electric propulsion system.
- The initial departure to Venus would have a much lower C3 than iMars (8.55km^2/s^2 vs > 40km^2/s^2), making it easier to launch a decent mission stack using existing upper stages.
The cool thing being that by entering this flyby trajectory, you get most of the benefits of having people near the robots to teleoperate them without the delta-V penalty of entering and departing Venus’s orbit, which would take around 8km/s of delta-V if performed entirely propulsively. While this hasn’t been studied in anywhere near as much detail as Inspiration Mars has, and at least with current launch costs is likely much further out of the reach of a privately funded venture, it’s still an intriguing concept that would be far cheaper than say a manned Mars mission.Anyhow, I just wanted to present this concept for discussion.