NASA allocates US$1B to 2 Venus exploration missions

NASA is awarding a total of approximately US$1 billion to two new missions to explore Venus between 2028 and 2030 as part of its Discovery programme.

Launched in 1992, the programme seeks to find new ways to unlock the mysteries of the Solar System.

The twin missions are set to be the first US-led missions to Venus’ atmosphere since 1978.

The two new missions involving NASA and other partners – DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging) and VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy) – will aim to understand how Venus became an inferno-like world when it has so many other characteristics similar to Earth – and may have been the first habitable world in the Solar System, complete with an ocean and Earth-like climate.

DAVINCI+

DAVINCI+ will measure the composition of Venus’ atmosphere to understand how it formed and evolved, as well as determine whether the planet ever had an ocean.

The mission, which receives US$500 million from NASA, consists of a descent sphere that will plunge through Venus’ thick atmosphere, making precise measurements of noble gases and other elements to understand why the planet’s atmosphere is a runaway hothouse compared the Earth’s.

In addition, DAVINCI+ will return the first high-resolution pictures of the unique geological features on Venus known as “tesserae,” which may be comparable to Earth’s continents, suggesting that Venus has plate tectonics.

The results from DAVINCI+ could reshape the understanding of terrestrial planet formation in the Solar System and beyond.

VERITAS

VERITAS will map Venus’ surface to determine the planet’s geologic history and understand why it developed so differently than Earth.

Orbiting the fiery planet with a synthetic aperture radar, VERITAS will chart surface elevations over nearly the entire planet to create 3D reconstructions of topography and confirm whether processes such as plate tectonics and volcanism are still active on Venus.

VERITAS also will map infrared emissions from Venus’ surface to map its rock type, which is largely unknown, and determine whether active volcanoes are releasing water vapour into the atmosphere.

NASA has also selected a pair of technology demonstrations to fly with the two Venus missions.

VERITAS will host the Deep Space Atomic Clock-2, built by JPL.

The ultra-precise clock signal generated with this technology will ultimately help enable autonomous spacecraft manoeuvres and enhance radio science observations.

DAVINCI+ will meanwhile host the Compact Ultraviolet to Visible Imaging Spectrometer (CUVIS) built by Goddard.

CUVIS will make high resolution measurements of ultraviolet light using a new instrument based on freeform optics.

These observations will be used to determine the nature of the unknown ultraviolet absorber in Venus’ atmosphere that absorbs up to half the incoming solar energy.

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