NASA is Sending a Mission to Venus for the First Time in More Than 30 Years

On Wednesday, NASA announced two new missions to Venus that will launch at the end of the decade to learn how Earth’s nearest planetary neighbor turned into a hellscape while our own thrived.

“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.”

The missions have received about US$500 million in funding from NASA’s Discovery Program, and each is expected to launch between 2028 and 2030.Both missions were chosen through a competitive, peer-reviewed process based on the scientific value of their plans and their feasibility.

DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble Gases, Chemistry, and Imaging) will collect more information about the composition of Venus’ primarily carbon dioxide atmosphere in order to better understand how it formed and evolved.

The mission also wants to know if the planet ever had an ocean. A descent sphere will plunge through the dense atmosphere which is laced with sulfuric acid clouds.

NASA is Sending a Mission to Venus for the First Time in More Than 30 Years
An artist’s conception shows the DAVINCI+ probe descending through Venus’ atmosphere on the end of a parachute. (NASA / GSFC Photo)

It will precisely measure the levels of noble gases and other elements in order to figure out what caused the current runaway greenhouse effect.

DAVINCI+ will also send back the first high-resolution images of Venus’s “tesserae,” geological features that are roughly equivalent to Earth’s continents and suggest Venus has plate tectonics.

The results could reshape scientists’ understanding of terrestrial planet formation.

VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy) is the name of the other mission.

The goal of this mission is to map the surface of Venus from orbit and learn more about the planet’s geologic history.

It will chart surface elevations and confirm whether volcanoes and earthquakes are still occurring on the planet using a type of radar that is used to create three-dimensional constructions.

It will also use infrared scanning to determine the rock type, which is currently unknown, as well as whether or not active volcanoes are releasing water vapor into the atmosphere.

While NASA will lead the mission, the German Aerospace Center will provide the infrared mapper, and the Italian Space Agency and France’s Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales will help with the radar and other aspects.

“It is astounding how little we know about Venus, but the combined results of these missions will tell us about the planet from the clouds in its sky through the volcanoes on its surface all the way down to its very core,” said Tom Wagner, NASA’s Discovery Program scientist.

“It will be as if we have rediscovered the planet.”

Magellan, NASA’s last Venus orbiter, arrived in 1990, but other vessels have made fly-bys since then.

READ MORE: What Would It Be Like To Stand On Venus?

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