NASA will explore Venus for the first time in decades

3 Jun 2021

Image: © revers_jr/Stock.adobe.com

The new Venus missions aim to understand how the planet, which is similar to Earth in many ways, became an ‘inferno-like world’.

Two new NASA missions will head to Venus, Earth’s nearest planetary neighbour, for the first time in more than three decades.

The announcement was made by NASA administrator Bill Nelson, who said the two missions, DAVINCI+ and VERITAS, are expected to travel to Venus in the late 2020s.

“These two sister missions both aim to understand how Venus became an inferno-like world capable of melting lead at the surface,” he said.

“We hope these missions will further our understanding of how Earth evolved and why it’s currently habitable when others in our Solar System are not.”

Each mission will receive around $500m from NASA and they are expected to launch between 2028 and 2030.

‘It is astounding how little we know about Venus’
– THOMAS ZURBUCHEN

DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry and Imaging) will measure the composition of the planet’s atmosphere to understand how it formed and evolved, as well as determine whether the planet ever had an ocean. This would be the first US-led mission to Venus’ atmosphere since 1978.

Meanwhile, VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography and Spectroscopy) aims to map the planet’s surface to determine its geologic history and understand why it developed so differently to Earth.

‘A new decade of Venus’

While Venus is of a similar size, mass and composition to Earth, Venus’s atmospheric pressure is 92 times that of Earth and its surface temperature can be as high as 450 degrees Celsius.

Such a hostile environment has made exploratory missions difficult, while our other neighbour Mars has been mapped in incredible detail.

NASA associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said the new missions mark an exciting and emerging area of research for the space agency.

“We’re ushering in a new decade of Venus to understand how an Earth-like planet can become a hothouse,” he said.

“It is astounding how little we know about Venus, but the combined results of these missions will tell us about the planet from the clouds in its sky through the volcanoes on its surface all the way down to its very core.”

In September 2020, the discovery of phosphine in the clouds of Venus prompted then-NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine to call for a new global research focus. “It’s time to prioritise Venus,” he said.

The two new Venus missions are final selections from four mission concepts NASA picked in February 2020 as part of the agency’s Discovery 2019 competition.

In a statement, NASA said the two missions were chosen based on their potential scientific value and the feasibility of their development plans following a competitive, peer-reviewed process.

Jenny Darmody is the deputy editor of Silicon Republic

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