Rocket Lab's mission to Venus, which was originally scheduled to launch last month, is "not imminent," a spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch. That means the mission will likely move ahead no earlier than January 2025, the only publicly stated back-up window for launch.
"Our focus right now is on delivering customer missions as a priority," the spokesperson said. They did not provide any further reasons for the slip.
Rocket Lab announced it would go to Venus last August, in what will be the first fully private mission to the yellow planet. The company will fund the mission, while a team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other organizations contributed to the scientific payload. The company plans on using its small Electron rocket and Photon spacecraft to send a very tiny probe to around 30 miles above the surface of Venus, where atmospheric conditions are most similar to that of Earth.
Indeed, everything about the mission is compact and ambitious. The probe, which will measure just 40 centimeters in diameter, will search for organic chemicals in Venus’s clouds — or in other words, signs of life and suggestions of habitable conditions for supporting life. After spending only five minutes flying through the clouds, the probe will slowly lose altitude until it hits the surface of Venus around an hour after atmospheric entry.
One of the other primary goals of the mission, according to a paper detailing the mission parameters, is to further mature the high-energy Photon spacecraft. Photon is Rocket Lab’s workhorse spacecraft, but this high-energy variant is specifically designed for deep space missions.
Rocket Lab developed the high-energy Photon for the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) mission for NASA, which launched in June 2022. The company will also use this upper stage variant for a NASA mission to Mars next year.
What sets the high-energy Photon apart from the other variants that Rocket Lab sells — for example, as a satellite bus to startups like Varda Space — is that its capable of long-duration interplanetary cruising. The upcoming mission to Mars, and the mission to Venus in 2025, are likely only the tip of the iceberg for Rocket Lab's ambitions.
The story has been updated to reflect that the probe will fly 30 miles, not feet, above the surface of Venus.