Venus is next on the list of NASA's New Frontiers program, a series of space exploration missions that aims to study several planets in the Solar System. To make this exploration possible, one company has designed an inflatable aircraft that can explore the dense atmosphere of the planet.

Venus is hailed as the Earth's twin planet but the former has an incredibly inhospitable surface for both man or machine albeit the atmosphere is nearly Earth-like high above the planet's surface.

For cruising the sulfurous skies of Venus, aerospace and defense technology company Northrop Grumman is working on Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform, or VAMP, a large inflatable and propeller-powered spacecraft.

The concept of VAMP is set to join the next New Frontiers planetary science competition of the U.S. space agency. The New Horizons spacecraft that now travels towards Pluto is an alumnus of the program.

The next competition will start on Oct. 1 and the winning mission needs to be ready for launch by 2021. Northrop is confident in its concept and believes that VAMP can compete for about $1 billion in funding from NASA.

The aircraft would have a wingspan of 151ft, which is nearly twice the size of Boeing 737, with a top speed of about 135 mph. It would be flown between 31 to 44 miles above the planet's surface in a region of the atmosphere where the pressure is comparable to that of the Earth. The plane would also be carried by a spacecraft to Venus. Once it arrives in the planet's orbit, it would detach to enter the Venus' atmosphere by itself.

VAMP can cruise above the surface of planet Venus at an altitude of about 34 miles for up to a year. The aircraft would also be able to carry with it up to 440 pounds of equipment that will be used to analyze the planet's atmospheric composition.

"We have a list of about a dozen instruments that people have proposed we fly...and we convened a science advisory board to help us define both the instruments and where the aircraft needs to be to take the needed measurements," said Northrop Grumman chief architect of civil systems Ron Polidan.

Vamp, however, faces a question regarding the aircraft being scientifically valuable given that it will fly very far from the planet's surface. Robert Herrick, from University of Alaska, said that VAMP won't be able to provide answer to all question as the platform is primarily for atmospheric science. 

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