Nasa announced two new missions to Venus on Wednesday that will launch at the end of the decade and are aimed at learning how Earth’s nearest planetary neighbour became a hellscape while our own thrived.
This marks the first time the space agency will send dedicated missions to the cloudy planet in more than 30 years.
The two missions, DAVINCI+ and VERITAS missions to Venus aim to take place between 2028 and 2030. The missions have been awarded about $500 million under NASA’s Discovery Program.
“These two sister missions both aim to understand how Venus became an inferno-like world, capable of melting lead at the surface,” said Bill Nelson, the agency’s newly-confirmed administrator.
“They will offer the entire science community the chance to investigate a planet we haven’t been to in more than 30 years.”
DAVINCI+, which stands for Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging, will gather more detail on the composition of Venus’ primarily carbon dioxide atmosphere, to learn how it formed and evolved. The mission also seeks to determine whether the planet once had an ocean. A descent sphere will plunge through the dense atmosphere which is laced with sulfuric acid clouds. It will precisely measure the levels of noble gases and other elements to learn what gave rise to the runaway greenhouse effect we see today.
DAVINCI+ will also beam back the first high-resolution images of the planet’s “tesserae,” geological features roughly comparable with Earth’s continents whose existence suggests Venus has plate tectonics.
The other mission is called VERITAS, an acronym for Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy.
This will aim to map the Venusian surface from orbit and delve into the planet’s geologic history.
Using a form of radar that is used to create three-dimensional constructions, it will chart surface elevations and confirm whether volcanoes and earthquakes are still happening on the planet.
It will also use infrared scanning to determine rock type, which is largely unknown, and whether active volcanoes are releasing water vapor into the atmosphere.
While the mission is NASA led, the German Aerospace Center will provide the infrared mapper, while the Italian Space Agency and France’s Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales will contribute to the radar and other parts of the mission.