Autonomous Aerodynamic Repeating Diver For Venus Atmospheric Research of Clouds

Space Systems Design

10 weeks
Group Project

Project Overview

Over the course of a semester I worked with 2 Brown University engineering students Jacob Benheim and Madeleine Gaw. Together we conceived and developed a mission design for the exploration of Venus' upper atmosphere. We not only put together a viable mission plan but also built a scale prototype of our Aircraft to assess its feasibility.

My goal was to bring my design background and unique perspective to a team of engineers so that we could create a mission that pushed the boundries of convention, and presented a new possibility for what future scientific missions could look like, while also being feasible.

Personal Role 

I worked to develop the communication infrastructure, outline the overall system organization of the mission, establish specific scientific goals for the data collection, organize and execute the creation of our physical prototype, create renderings, and write the final abstract that was presented at the 10th Moscow Solar System symposium

What will AADVARC do...

Past Venus missions did little to clarify the true complexity of Venus’ Atmosphere because they did not have the ability to collect and transmit continuous data over a significant period of time.  The AARDVARC mission will collect and relay atmospheric data from a wide range of latitudes throughout a Venusian year using a deployable and inflatable electrically powered aircraft at 65 to 45 km above the surface.

Mission Architecture

3 Main Components...


Venus Orbiting Communication Satellite
The VOCS will relay the data collected by DARA to the DSN. It will continue to be operational well after the end of the AARDVARC mission in order to provide communications infrastructure for later missions.
Deployment Mechanism The DM will be dropped from the VOCS. It will deploy DARA before burning up in the lower atmosphere.


The Diving Atmospheric Research Aircraft DARA will operate for a mission time of 116 Earth days. After deployment and stabilization it will navigate to Venus’s equator and collect atmospheric data from 65 to 45 km.

Deployment Stages

Once the Deployment Mechanism reaches 2,000 km its orbit becomes unstable and it enters the vesuvian atmosphere. The stages for how the Diving atmospheric research aircraft is deployed are outlined above.


After deployment and stabilization, DARA navigates to Venus’s equator, staying at constant solar noon. To maintain this position DARA will compensate for winds and Venus’ rotation by maintaining a velocity of 335 km/hr above the clouds and a velocity of 190 km/hr at the low points of its dives. This means that Venus will rotate beneath DARA like a treadmill. Because one full rotation of Venus is 116 Earth days, this treadmill effect allows DARA to sample the equatorial atmosphere of the entire planet during its planned mission lifetime. If DARA drifts away from the equator it will navigate back to its optimal position.

DARA will dive into the clouds for 15 minutes approximately once every 24 hours. During that time it will collect meteorological data including wind speed and direction, temperature, humidity, and pressure. It will also collect data on atmospheric chemical composition, cloud particle density, particle size, and cloud composition. When not performing periodic dives the aircraft will collect, at a lower sampling rate, the same data for the upper atmosphere of Venus.
The plane will avoid the thermal degradation experienced by past probes by loitering at a high altitude. At its cruising altitude of 65 kilometers the temperature is -43 °C and during its dives it will encounter only 15 minutes at 100 °C.

Design of Aircraft 

DARA’s  inflatable design not only allows for efficient transportation but also for a large surface area at a low mass commensurate. This lowers launch vehicle constraints, aircraft power consumption, and gives a large area for solar panels.


AARDVARC’s strategy for exploring Venus allows for a long mission duration and global data collection. This unique mission will gather valuable data that will help scientist understand how Venus’s runaway greenhouse effect evolved, what happens chemically in the upper atmosphere, and would be the longest ever Venus in-situ mission conducted.


My goal for this project was to use my unique skillset as a designer to develop a mission concept that not only accomplished scientific goals but that did so in an efficient, and unconventional way. During this process I learned a tremendous amount about working with engineers and how to balance the ideas of convention and feasibility with risk, ideation, and optimism.

Contact me if you are interested in learning more about this project, hearing about some of the projects details, or reading the abstract that was presented at the 10th Moscow Solar System Symposium.