About Venus

What’s it like?

Original image copyright JAXA/ISAS/DARTS/Damia Bouic

Venus is the second planet from the Sun and completes its orbit every 224.7 Earth days. It completes a single rotation in 243 days, making a day on the planet the longest one in the solar system. It has no water, no satellites, and no magnetic field. On the surface the atmosphere is so dense that small winds can move boulders and the pressure is equivalent to about 1 mile/2 km below sea level – where you’ll often find nuclear submarines and no sunlight.

It is also a hellish landscape. A runaway greenhouse effect in its thick, 96% CO2 atmosphere has turned the surface of the planet into a rocky inferno where the average temperature is around 462°C/863.6°F – it is the hottest planet in the solar system. Its barren surface is constantly rocked by volcanic lava flow.

Finally, the clouds are filled with sulfuric acid. For more information on the planet, see Wikipedia’s entries on Venus and its atmosphere.

That sounds terrible – why should we live there?

There are five major reasons why Venus would make just as viable a colonial location as Mars:

  1. Even though the atmosphere is super hot and super dense at the surface, at about 55 km (34 miles) up it is only about .5 atmosphere (half that of Earth at sea level) and only 27°C/80°F. With a breathing apparatus and a chemically resistant suit you could walk around outside – if you had something to walk on.
  2. The CO2 atmosphere is so dense that oxygen actually acts as a lifting gas. You could fill an airship with breathable air and it would float just because of it – making floating colonies like Star War’s Cloud City a distinct possibility.
  3. Energy is abundant. Because the planet is so close to the sun, solar energy is easily available. The planet’s highly reflective atmosphere means that a lot of light is reflected from below – you could put solar panels on both the top and bottom of your colony and they would collect almost as much sunlight! With Stirling Engines you can harness the temperature differential between the upper and lower atmosphere to create electricity.
  4. Finally, Venus is very close to Earth in terms of size and mass – its gravity is .9 G (Earth is 1G, Mars is .38). Without gravity at all, NASA has determined that you lose 1% of your bone density per month. With such a weak gravity on Mars, you could probably never return to Earth after you left – you would simply be too weak to stand on Terra Firma again. But with Venus, you could live there for a year or two and actually come back to see your family, friends, and breath air that hasn’t been put through a recycling processor.
  5. It’s a fundamentally different experience. Living in the clouds is something that we just can’t do here on Earth. If you’re going to travel to another planet, why not go to a planet where you’ll experience something completely different than where you came from?

What is the “Spacewhale” concept?

Concept Art by Sergiu Ikarus for Venus.Aero.

The Spacewhale is an artificially intelligent aircraft. One part flying factory, one part cruise ship, it houses several thousand people and animals within its belly. Think of it like a cross between the Mothership from Homeworld and the cruiser liner from Wall-E.

One of the things that Elon Musk said that’s really critical to understand about space travel is that it has to be fun.

“In order to make it appealing and increase that portion of the Venn diagram where people actually want to go, it has got to be really fun and exciting—it cannot feel cramped or boring,”

After all, why would you want to leave Earth, a place of such beauty and natural wonder, to go live on a dead planet in a tin can for who knows how long?

The Spacewhale is a home away from home. Constructed in orbit and dropped into the planet’s atmosphere, it has meadows, water tanks large enough to swim and get lost in, and even a small city. It also serves as transportation and manufacturing hub, connecting the myriad of support platforms and Spacewhales together – like a flying airport.

Concept Art by Sergiu Ikarus for Venus.Aero.

Managing all of this will be an intelligent computer, able to make decisions based on more information that a human could perceive. As a part of its function it will be required to keep track of its occupants: their mental and physical health, locations, and well-being. I surmise that this would have to be firewalled and off-limits to human intervention. Only the AI and medical professionals could have access to an individual’s private information.

Building just one of these aircraft would be a massive undertaking, and would only be possible once we have built a robotosphere: a network of deep-space mining and energy collection robots. These robots would mine and 3D print new spacecraft directly from asteroids, and would shuttle materials automatically around the solar system.