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Exploring Venus This Decade—10 Things You Have to Know

Concept art for the VERITAS automatic Venus station. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

NASA confirmed the selection of two new missions to Venus but these are not the only plans for the exploration of Earth's planetary neighbor. Russia and India are also developing their own spacecraft to be sent in the same direction.

NASA has announced the winners of the Discovery competition – they are two robotic Venus exploration vehicles that could be launched into space in the late 2020s. The DAVINCI + atmospheric probe will study the planet’s atmosphere, and the VERITAS orbital station will make a three-dimensional topographic model of Venus.

NASA’s Discovery Program

The Discovery program has been carried out by NASA for almost 30 years. Projects of unmanned spacecraft are being developed within its framework with two main rules: the total cost of which should not exceed 450 million dollars, and the time costs should not be very large. The devices themselves must solve various problems in the field of planetary science and the physics of the solar system.

Earlier, the agency presented four finalists, who received $3 million each to finalize the concepts of their projects. At the beginning of June 2021, NASA, having analyzed the results of the work carried out, chose two winners – they were the DAVINCI + and VERITAS research projects, which will be implemented.

The two confirmed missions now join India’s Shukrayaan-1 mission to Venus, scheduled for 2024, and Russia’s Venera-D mission which is already in development. Here are the goals of all four missions that have been confirmed this far.

10 Things Future Venus Missions Hope to Achieve

1. The DAVINCI + will be a descent probe that will be dropped into the atmosphere of Venus, will open a parachute, and will investigate the structure and chemical and isotopic composition of the atmosphere for 63 minutes until it reaches the planet’s surface.

2. It will also make images of the surface of Venus. It is expected to study enigmatic tesserae – geological structures that resemble terrestrial continents. It is possible that Venus has tectonic activity.

Descent of DAVINCI + mission in the atmosphere of Venus. Credit: NASA / GSFC
Descent of DAVINCI + mission in the atmosphere of Venus. Credit: NASA / GSFC

3. DAVINCI + will collect samples from the atmosphere that will be subject to on-site analysis. For this purpose, two spectrometers, sensors for studying the atmospheric dynamics, as well as a camera will be installed onboard the spacecraft.

4. The VERITAS orbital station should operate in orbit around Venus for three years, during which time it will create radar and infrared maps of the planet’s surface.

5. It will also help develop a three-dimensional topographic model of Venus, which will help to understand the volcanic activity of the planet.

6. Its goal is to also answer the question of why this planet has evolved in such a different way than the Earth. For this purpose, a synthetic aperture radar will be installed onboard the device.

7. India’s Shukrayaan-1 mission to Venus will explore the planet for four years. The device will study the structure of the surface of Venus, the interaction of the solar wind with its ionosphere, as well as the structure, composition, and dynamics of the planet’s atmosphere.

8. Russia’s Venera-D mission aims to answer some of the most important questions about Venus like the dynamics of the atmosphere, the problems of super-rotation, the giant greenhouse effect, etc. This will be possible with observations of the natural phenomena simultaneously from orbit and surface.

9. The new Venus exploration program includes the dispatch of at least three scientific vehicles. According to scientists, the Venera-D project will continue the exploration of Venus using an orbiter, a subsatellite, and a lander equipped with a wide range of scientific equipment. The inclusion in the project of a long-lived station is being worked out, which will operate on the surface of Venus for about 60 days.

10. But the second work within the framework of the Venusian program is connected with the delivery of soil from the planet to the Earth. This task will be realized after the landing program is completed, and the samples and landing area have been examined.

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Chang, K. (2021, June 2). New NASA Missions Will Study Venus, a World Overlooked for Decades. The New York Times.
Gorman, S. (2021, June 2). NASA’s Venus missions to probe divergent fate of Earth’s hothouse sister planet. Reuters.
Potter, S. (2021, June 2). NASA Selects 2 Missions to Study ‘Lost Habitable’ World of Venus. NASA.
Voosen, P., Moutinho, S., Service, R., & Servick, K. (2021, June 2). Venus can’t wait-NASA plans blockbuster return to hothouse neighbor. Science.