The Morning Star Missions are a series of astrobiology-focused missions to Venus, the morning star planet, with the goal to study the clouds of Venus in order to determine their ability to support microbial life forms and to search for signs of life or life itself. The mission concepts have originated and evolved from the Venus Life Finder Mission Concept study led by Professor Sara Seager (view the report). Each subsequent mission will increase in complexity and leverage the technologies and scientific discoveries of the previous missions in order to advance our knowledge of the Venusian clouds.
Rocket Lab Probe Mission
Rocket Lab is sending the first-ever private interplanetary mission to Venus to search for signs of life in the clouds by detecting organic chemistry. The mission is planned for launch in January 2025 aboard Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket. The Lab’s Photon spacecraft will carry a small atmospheric probe weighing about 20 kg which it will drop near Venus right before entering its atmosphere. The probe will carry an Autofluorescence Nephelometer (AFN) to search for organic material in the clouds and characterize the cloud particles.
The habitability missions will determine the ability of the Venus cloud decks to support life and search for signs of life. The first mission in this series will be a probe with a parachute carrying an instrument suite to measure habitability indicators such as particle acidity, water content, and the presence of metals and nonvolatile elements. The instruments will also search for evidence of life in the clouds via biosignature gas detection and organic material. The probe mission will be followed by a balloon mission with a more complex suite of instruments such as a mass spectrometer to detect and identify complex organic molecules. The habitability missions are envisioned to be implemented during the launch window opportunities from 2026 to 2031.
Atmospheric and Cloud Sample Return Mission
A Venus atmosphere sample return mission will help to robustly answer the compelling question, “Is there life in Venus’ clouds?” The cloud samples from all the cloud layers will be collected by a balloon platform and delivered to Venus orbit by a small rocket. The mission could be possible within the next two decades if timely investments in technology development are made starting now.