It’s an exciting time to be a Venus watcher. Our sister planet, which has been the target of only one mission since the 1980s, is now the focus of not one, not two, but three missions from NASA and ESA. Combined, they promise to give the closest look ever at the Morning Star, and some of the processes that might have made such a similar world so different from our own.
The first two missions were officially selected by NASA on June 2nd as part of the agency’s Discovery program. Both missions have had a pedigree going back years, but with official program support now they are much better supported by the space exploration community, and much more likely to get off the ground.
DAVINCI+ and VERITAS, the two NASA missions have both been covered in detail in previous UT articles. DAVINCI+, which evolved from the previously proposed Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases Chemistry and Imaging probe, is focused on understanding the atmosphere and surface of Venus. It will mark the first time the Venusian atmosphere will be directly sampled since 1985 when it launches a spherical probe into the atmosphere. It will also provide high resolution pictures of some features of the planet’s surface.
With that second objective, it overlaps with VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy), whose primary mission is to map the planet’s surface. Using a combination of synthetic aperture radar and infrared imaging it will try to draw an accurate picture of both the contours of the surface as well as its makeup.
Both missions will also serve a platform for technology demonstrators. VERITAS will carry the Deep Space Atomic Clock-2, meant to keep accurate time to help with spacecraft maneuvering, while DAVINCI+ will sport the Compact Ultraviolet to Visible Imaging Spectrometer (CUVIS), a new type of imaging sensor for particular use in the ultraviolet range of the spectrum.
But they are not the only missions hosting NASA technology – on June 10th, ESA announced its own mission to Venus. Known as the EnVision, the mission will serve as part of ESA’s Cosmic Vision plan of exploration. One key component to EnVision is another synthetic aperture radar known as VenSAR. Like the one hosted on VERITAS, this instrument will help EnVision study three different layers of the Venus system – the atmosphere, the surface, and even underground. Using radio signals the probe will attempt to map the internal structure of the planet, allowing researchers to better map deposits of certain materials or unstable structures.
Since these missions are all now officially accepted into formal development programs, their coordination can continue up to launch. Though they are still years away from launching, let alone arriving at our sister planet, these missions will give Venus enthusiasts a whole slew of new things to look forward to.
NASA – Then There Were 3: NASA to Collaborate on ESA’s New Venus Mission
ESA – ESA selects revolutionary Venus mission EnVision
NASA – NASA Selects 2 Missions to Study ‘Lost Habitable’ World of Venus
Image showing the similarity between Earth and Venus, with a concept of the EnVision spacecraft in the foreground.
Credit: European Space Agency / Paris Observatory / VR2Planets