Elon Musk wants to settle humans on Mars with his rocket company SpaceX. Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, wants a trillion people living in space. But the chief executive of one private space company is approaching space exploration differently, and now aims to play a part in the search for life on Venus.
On Monday, scientists announced the astonishing discovery of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus. This chemical could have been produced by a biological source, but scientists won’t know for sure without sending a spacecraft to the planet.
As luck would have it, Rocket Lab, the private small rocket company founded in New Zealand, has been working on such a mission. The company has developed a small satellite, called Photon, that it plans to launch on its own Electron rocket as soon as 2023.
“This mission is to go and see if we can find life,” said Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s founder and chief executive. “Obviously, this discovery of phosphine really adds strength to that possibility. So I think we need to go and have a look there.”
Rocket Lab has launched a dozen rockets to space, putting small satellites into orbit for private companies, NASA and the U.S. military. It also has a mission to the moon in the works with NASA, called CAPSTONE, scheduled to launch in early 2021.
The company began looking into the possibility of a mission to Venus last year, before it knew about the phosphine discovery. Although its Electron rocket is much smaller than the ones used by SpaceX and other competitors, it could send a space probe