NASA’s new bird-like drones will help unlock the secrets of Venus’s atmosphere. In the coming years, a new concept fleet will appear.

NASA is allocating $5.1 million to develop next-generation technologies that will be useful for planetary exploration in the distant future. The concepts vary widely in design and purpose. Among them is an interesting inflatable drone that looks like a bird. It will be sent to Venus to study its atmosphere and weather conditions.

The concept behind the drone is Javid Bayandor’s team, and it’s called the Bioinspired Ray for Extreme Environments and Area Exploration, or BREEZE. In the near future, scientists will begin to develop key mission objectives for the drone, as well as refine thrust capabilities, stability and flight dynamics. In addition, engineers will design the inflatable elements of the drone.

The goal of the project is to create a highly efficient aircraft for the atmosphere of Venus. It will be very different from other concepts, which typically involve the use of lighter-than-air balloons or small solar-powered lift craft. BREEZE will be something of a hybrid, the scientists note in the report.

The bird-like drone is part of NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. Its goal is to fund early-stage research to evaluate technologies that can support future aeronautics and space missions. A total of 17 researchers from 9 US states will receive grants from NASA to develop ideas for space travel. During the current funding round, they will receive about $5.1 million.

As the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Caltech) notes in a blog post, all selected concepts are still in the early stages of development and are not yet considered official missions.