Venus scientists have long complained that the planet is not getting what it deserves from robotic explorers. But those days are over, with space agencies announcing three new flights to Earth’s mysterious twin in just over a week.
On June 2, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced that the agency will conduct two new missions to Venus, dubbed DAVINCI + and VERITAS, with the goal of launching the spacecraft between 2028 and 2030. Today (June 10), the European Space Agency (ESA) joined the rush to Venus in announcing that it will launch an EnVision mission to the planet in the early 2030s.
“A new era awaits us in the study of our closest but completely different neighbor in the solar system,” ESA Science Director Gunther Hasinger said in a statement. “Together with the recently announced missions to Venus led by NASA, we will have an extremely extensive science program on this mysterious planet over the next decade.”
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According to the ESA, this mission was chosen over an astrophysical project called Theseus, which would study very distant gamma-ray bursts and other transient phenomena in order to understand the life cycle of the earliest stars.
The new mission won’t be Europe’s first visit to a neighboring world: ESA’s Venus Express spacecraft orbited the world from 2005 to 2014, exploring the planet’s thick atmosphere, rich in carbon dioxide.
EnVision will also orbit Venus, but its instruments will be able to get a deeper view of the planet than those aboard the Venus Express. The spacecraft’s instruments will include an echo sounder to study the layers within the planet, spectrometers to analyze gases in the atmosphere of Venus and compounds on its surface, a radar instrument to map the planet’s surface, and a radio science experiment that will investigate the structure and gravity of the planet. field, according to ESA.
Although the project is being led by ESA, the spacecraft’s radar will be supplied by NASA. “VenSAR from EnVision will provide a unique perspective through targeted exploration of the surface of Venus, enriching the Venus exploration roadmap,” Adriana Ocampo, EnVision Scientist at NASA, said in a NASA statement.
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Meanwhile, NASA’s VERITAS mission (short for Venus Emissivity, Radiology, InSAR, Topography and Spectroscopy) will create a global map of Venus’s topography. This data will be a vital update over what we received from NASA’s Magellan mission, which used a much older version of the technology to map Venus between 1989 and 1994.
DAVINCI + (Venus Deep Atmospheric Noble Gas Research, Chemistry and Imaging) will be the only of these new missions to travel to Venus’s atmosphere. The spacecraft includes a main orbiter and a probe that will travel all the way through the planet’s atmosphere to its surface, collecting measurements of how the atmosphere changes with depth.
EnVision will launch following two NASA projects, with ESA officials evaluating Ariane 6 launch windows in 2031, 2032 and 2033. It will then take the spacecraft 15 months to reach Venus, and another 16 months to reach its final orbit.
Taken together, the three new missions will be a powerful tool for scientists who want to better understand how Earth and Venus started out so similar but became such different worlds, Tom Wagner, NASA’s Discovery Program scientist, said in a NASA statement.
“The combined results from EnVision and our Discovery missions will tell us how the forces of volcanism, tectonics and chemical weathering have combined to create and sustain Venus’s rampant greenhouse climate.”
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