Rocket Lab Probe

Rocket Lab will launch a small probe to Venus aboard its Electron rocket to advance the search for life signs beyond Earth. The probe will be a sounder, dropped off into the Venus atmosphere with a mission lifetime of about 5 minutes. This is the first-ever private mission beyond Earth orbit with a strong public-private partnership at its core, pioneering low-cost space exploration. 

Venus Life Finder mission


Target Launch Date: January 2025

Science Objectives

Objective #1: Search for the presence of organic material within cloud-layer particles as a function of altitude

Autofluorescence is a way to detect (but not identify) organics inside cloud droplets on Venus. Many organic compounds are known to fluoresce when subject to UV, owing to delocalized ring electrons. Toward this goal, the probe will identify UV autofluorescence in cloud particles, if present.

Objective #2: Seek anomalous cloud components, including  aspherical particles, and their relative abundance as a function of altitude

Aspherical particles are not pure liquid and therefore cannot be pure sulfuric acid. Constraining particle composition can support evidence of habitable conditions inside cloud particles. Toward this goal, the probe will determine cloud particle size distribution, identify asphericity, and estimate the complex index of refraction of cloud particles as a function of altitude. 

Instrument: AutoFluorescence Nephelometer (AFN)

Droplet Measurement Technologies is developing the AFN, leveraging their decades of experience with cloud measurement solutions. 

Mass: < 1 kg

Power: < 50 W

Measurement: Measure scattered light of 440 nm wavelength and fluorescence of in 470 to 520 nm wavelength range from single aerosol particles

Scientific output: Detect and derive particle size and number density, derive complex reflective index, quantify asphericity of particles, and detect fluorescence from particles 

Simulating sulfuric acid aerosols

A team at the University of Colorado Boulder, led by Prof. Margaret Tolbert, is simulating the sulfuric acid aerosols to test the capabilities of the AFN. 

More information …

Rocket Lab’s mission webpage

French, R.; Mandy, C.; Hunter, R.; Mosleh, E.; Sinclair, D.; Beck, P.; Seager, S.; Petkowski, J.J.; Carr, C.E.; Grinspoon, D.H.; Baumgardner, D.; on behalf of the Rocket Lab Venus Team. Rocket Lab Mission to Venus. Aerospace 20229, 445.

Baumgardner, D.; Fisher, T.; Newton, R.; Roden, C.; Zmarzly, P.; Seager, S.; Petkowski, J.J.; Carr, C.E.; Špaček, J.; Benner, S.A.; Tolbert, M.A.; Jansen, K.; Grinspoon, D.H.; Mandy, C. Deducing the Composition of Venus Cloud Particles with the Autofluorescence Nephelometer (AFN). Aerospace 20229, 492.

AFN Poster

Rocket Lab Mission to Venus poster presented at the 2023 Venus Surface and Atmosphere Conference

Spacek, Jan. “Organic Carbon Cycle in the Atmosphere of Venus.” arXiv preprint arXiv:2108.02286 (2021).