Colonization of Venus

Colonization of Venus

The colonization of Venus has been a subject of much speculation and many works of science fiction since before the dawn of spaceflight, and is still much discussed. With the discovery of Venus' hostile surface environment, attention has largely shifted towards the colonization of the Moon and the colonization of Mars.


Reasons for colonization

Space colonization
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Space colonization is a step beyond space exploration, and implies the permanent or long-term presence of humans in an environment outside Earth. Colonization of space is arguably the best way to ensure the survival of humans as a species.[1] Other reasons for colonizing space include economic interests, long-term scientific research best carried out by humans, and sheer curiosity. Venus is the second largest terrestrial planet and Earth's closest neighbour, which makes it a potential target.


Scale representations of Venus and the Earth shown next to each other. Venus is only slightly smaller.

Air pressure on Venus, beginning at a pressure on the surface 90 times that of Earth and reaching a single bar by 50 kilometres

Venus has certain similarities to Earth which, were it not for the hostile conditions, might make colonization easier in many respects in comparison with other possible destinations. These similarities, and its proximity, have led Venus to be called Earth's "sister planet".

At present it has not been established whether the gravity of Mars, 0.38 times that of the Earth, would be sufficient to avoid bone decalcification and loss of muscle tone experienced by astronauts living in an environment of microgravity (the probe Mars Gravity Biosatellite was going to be the first probe to investigate this, however it has since been canceled due to lack of funding). In contrast, Venus is close in size and mass to the Earth, resulting in a similar surface gravity (0.904 g). Most other space exploration and colonization plans face concerns about the damaging effect of long-term exposure to fractional g or zero gravity on the human musculoskeletal system. Humans born on Venus would probably have little difficulty adapting to Earth gravity should there be a reason to visit or return; contrasted to return trips from Mars where humans would likely need rehabilitation or the use of an exoskeleton.

Venus's relative proximity makes transportation and communications easier than for most other locations in the solar system. With current propulsion systems, launch windows to Venus occur every 584 days, compared to the 780 days for Mars. Flight time is also somewhat shorter; the probe Venus Express that arrived at Venus in April 2006 spent slightly over five months en route, compared to nearly six months for Mars Express. This is because at closest approach, Venus is 45 million km from Earth compared to 56 million km for Mars, making Venus the closest planet to the Earth.


Venus also presents several significant challenges to human colonization. Surface conditions on Venus are practically impossible to deal with: the temperature at the equator averages around 500 °C (932 °F), higher than the melting point of lead. The atmospheric pressure on the surface is also at least ninety times greater than on Earth, which is equivalent to the pressure experienced under a kilometer of water. These conditions have caused missions to the surface to be extremely brief: the probes Venera 5 and Venera 6 for example were crushed by high pressure whilst still 18 km above the surface. Following landers such as Venera 7 and Venera 8 succeeded in transmitting data after reaching the surface, but these missions were brief as well, surviving no more than a single hour on the surface.

Furthermore, water, in any form, is almost entirely absent from Venus. The atmosphere is devoid of molecular oxygen and is primarily carbon dioxide in poisonously high concentrations. In addition, the visible clouds are composed partly of corrosive sulfuric acid and sulfur dioxide vapor.

Methods of colonization and exploration

Given the hostile conditions on Venus, a colony on the Venusian surface is far beyond current technological capabilities.

This has not prevented some science fiction authors from speculating on ways of overcoming this by, for example, terraforming Venus – making the planet more earth-like. Outside of fiction, the energy requirements for all terraforming plans are daunting in the context of our current technology, and the time required could possibly span hundreds of years. Other authors speculate that, if a large portion or the entire planet could be shaded, Venus would cool to a useful temperature in mere decades. Such authors postulate cooling methods such as placing sails (Solar shades) between Venus and the Sun at the Lagrange point between the two, controlled dust clouds in space, and a large number of other ideas.

Others suggest a different approach, however, claiming that rather than attempting to colonize Venus' hostile surface, humans might attempt to colonize the Venusian atmosphere (the most habitable known part of any planet outside Earth). This is because at an altitude of approximately 50 kilometers (in Venus's upper atmosphere), the pressure and temperature are Earth-like (1 bar and 0-50 degrees Celsius).

Exploration and research

Due to the planet's hostile environment, Venus has not been studied as much as objects such as the Moon and Mars have, and it is extremely unlikely that research would be conducted with a view to a human mission to the planet. The probe Venus Express is currently in orbit around the planet, but other low-cost missions have been proposed to further explore the planet's atmosphere, as the area 50 kilometres above the surface where air pressure is at the same level as Earth has not yet been explored.

It is possible to land a robot on the surface. The Soviet Venera program succeeded in doing so – the Venera 13 lander survived for 127 minutes, and the Venera 14 lander for 57 minutes. This survival time might be extended. Improved materials and technology designed to work at the high temperatures and pressures would be necessary. As the survival times of the robotic probes grow longer, enhanced missions might be feasible, including the establishment of a robotic base at locations where important (perhaps fissionable) compounds might be found. The technology for operating under such conditions is at the current time so exotic as to be difficult to conceive, and funding is likely to go elsewhere.

Aerostat habitats and floating cities

Hypothetical prototype floating outpost studying colonization of Venus around 50 km above the surface supported by a torus full of hydrogen

Geoffrey A. Landis of NASA's Glenn Research Center has summarized the perceived difficulties in colonizing Venus as being merely from the assumption that a colony would need to be based on the surface of a planet:

“However, viewed in a different way, the problem with Venus is merely that the ground level is too far below the one atmosphere level. At cloud-top level, Venus is the paradise planet.”

Landis has proposed aerostat habitats followed by floating cities, based on the concept that breathable air (21:79 Oxygen-Nitrogen mixture) is a lifting gas in the dense carbon dioxide atmosphere, with over 60% of the lifting power that helium has on Earth.[2] In effect, a balloon full of human-breathable air would sustain itself and extra weight (such as a colony) in midair. At an altitude of 50 km above Venusian surface, the environment is the most Earth-like in the solar system – a pressure of approximately 1 bar and temperatures in the 0°C–50°C range.[3] Because there is not a significant pressure difference between the inside and the outside of the breathable-air balloon, any rips or tears would cause gases to diffuse at normal atmospheric mixing rates, giving time to repair any such damages. In addition, humans would not require pressurized suits when outside, merely air to breathe, a protection from the acidic rain; and on some occasions low level protection against heat. Alternatively, two-part domes could contain a lifting gas like hydrogen or helium (extractable from the atmosphere) to allow a higher mass density.[4]

Cloud-top colonization also offers a way to avoid the issue of slow Venusian rotation. At the top of the clouds the wind speed on Venus reaches up to 95 m/s (approximately 212 mph), circling the planet approximately every four Earth days in a phenomenon known as "super-rotation".[5] Colonies floating in this region could therefore have a much shorter day length by remaining untethered to the ground and moving with the atmosphere. While a space elevator extending to the surface of Venus is impractical due to the slow rotation, constructing a skyhook that extended into the upper atmosphere and rotated at the wind speed would not be difficult compared to constructing a space elevator on Earth. The cloud-top colonists would also enjoy the benefits of Venus' 0.9 g surface gravity just as they would at the surface.

Since such colonies would be viable in current Venusian conditions, this allows a dynamic approach to colonization instead of requiring extensive terraforming measures in advance. The main challenge would be using a substance resistant to sulfuric acid to serve as the structure’s outer layer; ceramics or metal sulfates could possibly serve in this role. Dyneema, Polyethene and Polypropylene would be well usable for the skin of the balloon.

Landis has suggested that as more floating cities were built, they could form a solar shield around the planet, and could simultaneously be used to process the atmosphere into a more desirable form. If made from carbon nanotubes (recently fabricated into sheet form) or graphene (a sheet-like carbon allotrope), the major structural materials can be produced using carbon dioxide gathered in situ from the atmosphere. The recently synthesised amorphous carbonia might prove a useful structural material if it can be quenched to STP conditions, perhaps in a mixture with regular silica glass. According to Birch's analysis such colonies and materials would provide an immediate economic return from colonizing Venus, funding further terraforming efforts.


Artist's conception of a terraformed Venus

Terraforming (literally, "Earth-shaping") is the theoretical process of modifying a planet, moon, or other body to a more habitable atmosphere, temperature, or ecology. Venus has been the subject of a number of terraforming proposals. The proposals seek to remove or convert the dense carbon dioxide atmosphere, reduce Venus's 500 °C (770 K) surface temperature, and establish a day/night light cycle closer to that of Earth's.

Most proposals involve deployment of a solar shade and/or a system of orbital mirrors, for the purpose of reducing insolation and providing light to the dark side of Venus. Another common thread in most proposals involves some introduction of large quantities of hydrogen or water. Proposals also involve either freezing most of Venus's atmospheric CO2, or converting it to carbonates, urea or other forms.

Colonies in Venus Orbit

Another promising pathway to colonization is the use of near-Venus space for the orbital capture and development of comets and asteroids. Although Venus currently has no moons, in the near future it may be practical to nudge smaller bodies into orbit around the inner planets. Venus is especially good for this because aerobraking in its thick atmosphere can be used to slow these bodies down. Unlike near-Earth space where the danger of hitting the Earth would have severe effects on the civilization, near-Venus space does not suffer from this problem. The available free solar energy from the Sun makes Venus a desirable location for industrial development.

It is also a likely precursor to any serious attempt to develop economic activity in the gravity well of Venus. Resources in Venus orbit would be used to extend activity downward. A space elevator would likely not be feasible, given Venus' slow rotation (243 Earth days), but a skyhook into the atmosphere is possible.

Exploitation of resources

The first economic project for a profitable exploitation of prospectively found resources on Venus, as far as the interests of human civilization are concerned, could consist in accumulating carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid from the planet's atmosphere with the help of accumulating space devices such as PROFAC that use a nuclear energy source. Accumulation of atmospheric substances becomes possible for the purpose of transporting tankers filled with frozen CO2 and H2SO4 with the help of interplanetary tugboats to circumterrestrial orbits, with the goal of selling it to private and state aerospace companies; in CO2's case, as a working substance for the kinetic engine of Alexander Mayboroda.[6]

In compliance with various international agreements, nuclear energy cannot be used to accumulate substances from the Earth's atmosphere. However, that is no impediment to using nuclear devices on Venus. In that way it is possible to create unlimited and inexpensive stocks of oxygen, carbon, nitrogen and argon. Exploitation of Mayboroda's kinetic engine provides an opportunity to use these stocks not only as a working substance of inter-orbital and interplanetary apparatus, but more importantly as a working substance for the engines of spacecraft launched from the Earth into space, reducing the cost of launching cargo and people 20-fold. Roughly speaking, every ton of atmospheric substances accumulated from the atmosphere of Venus and tugged to the Earth provides an opportunity to deliver about one ton of cargo (passenger capsules) from the Earth into space with the help of simple one-stage reusable apparatus like Boeing X-37, SpaceShipOne or Blue Origin New Shepard.[7]

See also


  1. ^ "Hawking says humans must go into space to survive". USA Today. 13 June 2006. Retrieved 20 March 2007. 
  2. ^ Landis, Geoffrey A. (Feb. 2-6 2003). "Colonization of Venus". Conference on Human Space Exploration, Space Technology & Applications International Forum, Albuquerque NM. 
  3. ^ Nancy Atkinson (Jul. 16 2008). "Colonizing Venus With Floating Cities". Universe Today. Retrieved 4 July 2011. 
  4. ^ Birch, Paul (1991). "Terraforming Venus Quickly". Journal of the British Interplanetary Society. 
  5. ^ Atmospheric Flight on Venus (pdf) – Geoffrey A. Landis, Anthony Colozza, and Christopher M. LaMarre. paper IAC-02-Q.4.2.03, AIAA-2002-0819, AIAA0, No. 5
  7. ^ "Means of geocosmic freight traffic optimization. Pilot project based on patents RU2398717 and RU2385275 (adapted version)". 2010-10-17. Retrieved 2010-10-17. 

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