Weather balloons for Venus
A newly closed contract from the TDE programme, in partnership with QinetiQ, UK, developed a new weather balloon complete with microprobes that, if launched above Venus’ cloud layer, could measure its atmosphere. The balloon would float at around 60km of altitude, before dropping around 100 microprobes that would take measurements of pressure, temperature, solar and infrared flux as well as wind.
These could be relayed back to the balloon and in turn to Earth. Because of weight restrictions each probe could only way a maximum of 100g – about the same as a bar of soap.
Two breadboard balloons were built for this project and the team tested both, first in the lab and then in the field, along the coast of Cornwall in the UK.
Unfortunately, one balloon blew out to sea and has been lost, but the other had a very successful trial.
The team tested telemetry and range by reversing the experiment. The prototype balloon that would normally carry the probe was left on the ground, while one of the Met Office’s weather balloons were used to carry the probes up to 25km height – testing their range – before the balloon would break and the probe would descend, with a parachute to break its fall.
The system operated with 100% reliability. The carrier could safely handle multiple probes, the data could be successfully transferred from probe to balloon, and the probes flew well and their packaging was efficient to shield them from temperature and pressure effects.
The team also developed a roadmap showing that in 5 years time they could make each probe weigh just 55g.
TDE contract 4200017946.