Earth’s evil twin, here we come. NASA’s next 2 missions, named DAVINCI+ and VERITAS, are heading to Venus, administrator Bill Nelson announced at a press conference June 2.
“These 2 sister missions both aim to know how Venus became an inferno-like world capable of melting lead at the surface,” Nelson said. “We hope these missions will further our understanding of how Earth evolved and why it’s currently habitable, when others in our system aren’t .”
The missions were selected from four finalists, two headed to Venus, one to Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io, and one to Neptune’s largest moon Triton. the 2 Venus missions had applied and been rejected in earlier spacecraft selection rounds.
Venus is nearly an equivalent size as Earth, but it seems to possess had a special history. Although there’s evidence that it had been once covered in oceans and might be habitable, today it’s a scorched hellscape with clouds of sulfuric acid. No spacecraft has lasted quite two hours on its surface (SN: 2/13/18). And no NASA mission has visited in more than 30 years.
One of the newly selected missions, DAVINCI+, are going to be the 1st in decades to send a search into the planet’s thick, hot atmosphere. The spacecraft are going to be a ball a few meter in diameter which will sink through Venus’ atmosphere over the course of about an hour, taking measurements of how the content of the planet’s atmosphere changes from top-bottom. The probe also will take a number of the highest-resolution photos of the Venusian surface yet on its way down.
Those observations will help scientists find out how Venus’ water has changed over time, its volcanic activity now and in past, and therefore the planet’s past potential for habitability (SN: 8/26/16).
“DAVINCI+ goes to offer us measurements of the atmosphere that we absolutely, critically need, simply to place some basic bounds on one among the 2 scenarios for Venus: That it had been always the way it’s today, or that it had been habitable and got ruined,” says planetary scientist Paul Byrne of North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Byrne isn’t involved in either mission but is on NASA’s Venus exploration committee. the info also will help scientists interpret observations of Earth-sized exoplanets with atmospheres that would be taken with upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, giving researchers how to inform exo-Earths from exo-Venuses (SN: 10/4/19).
The other mission, VERITAS, will orbit Venus and study the planet’s surface to find out its history and why it’s so different from Earth. The orbiter will map the surface with radar, chart elevations to form 3-D maps and look appearance of plate tectonics and volcanism still ongoing on Venus. These observations could provide data for a future mission to land on Venus (SN: 12/23/20).
“We will become familiar with a fresh Venus with VERITAS,” Byrne says.
The missions are expected to launch sometime between 2028 and 2030, NASA said in statement.
The European Space Agency is considering another Venus orbiter called EnVision that might provide complementary data to VERITAS and DAVINCI+, if it’s selected. That decision could come as early as next week, Byrne says.
“Having those three missions at Venus would be astonishing,” Byrne says. “It would mean we were finally taking it as seriously as we should always have all along .”
This mission information reported on NASA.
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