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July 6, 2018

The Bespin Project

In the spring of 2017, an international team of students from Luleå University of Technology in Sweden gathered together to brainstorm a REXUS/BEXUS program idea. The European program supports scientific and technological experiments on research rockets and balloons, sending two of each into space every year.

After some deliberation by the team, it was a scientific article on the potential of a manned mission to the upper Venusian atmosphere that gave the impetus for the Balloon Ejection Student Prototype INvestigation (BESPIN) Project. Though Venus’s runaway greenhouse effect makes the planet’s surface hot enough to melt lead, at a height of 50km temperature and pressure conditions are very similar to those found on Earth. This makes a balloon-assisted manned mission to Venus highly plausible.

That’s why the BESPIN experiment is made up of two parts – a flotation probe and a descent probe. At apogee (around 80km), both probes are ejected as a single free-falling unit (FFU) from the rocket’s nose-cone. The FFU freefalls until it reaches an altitude of about 5km, when a parachute is deployed on the descent probe.

When the FFU’s velocity has dropped below 7 m/s, a balloon on the flotation probe will inflate. Once it’s fully inflated, the descent and flotation probes will separate. The descent probe will continue parachuting down towards the ground, while the flotation probe uses its fully inflated balloon to attempt a controlled descent.

Following the deployment of the descent probe parachute, the team will be using a RockBLOCK 9603 to communicate housekeeping and positional data to a ground station. Like the rest of the equipment, the RockBLOCK will be undergoing rigorous testing to ascertain its suitability for vibration, shock, and pressure changes associated with the mission.

More on this story from the European Space Agency.