“These two sister missions aim to understand how Venus became a hellish world, capable of melting lead on the surface,” said Bill Nelson, the agency’s recently confirmed administrator.
“They will offer the entire scientific community the opportunity to investigate a planet we have not been to in over 30 years.”
The missions have received about $ 500 million under NASA’s Discovery Program, with each expected to launch in the 2028-2030 timeframe. Both missions were selected from a competitive, peer-reviewed process, based on their scientific value and the feasibility of their plans.
DAVINCI +, which stands for Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble Gas, Chemistry and Imaging, will collect more details about the composition of Venus’s primarily carbon dioxide atmosphere, to learn how it formed and evolved.
The mission also seeks to determine if the planet ever had an ocean. A descending sphere will plunge into the dense atmosphere that is laced with clouds of sulfuric acid.
It will accurately measure levels of noble gases and other elements to find out what led to the runaway greenhouse effect we see today.
DAVINCI + will also transmit the first high-resolution images of the planet’s “tiles”, geological features roughly comparable to Earth’s continents whose existence suggests Venus has plate tectonics.
The results could reshape scientists’ understanding of the formation of terrestrial planets.
The other mission is called VERITAS, an acronym for Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography and Spectroscopy. This will aim to map the surface of Venus from orbit and delve into the geological history of the planet.
Using a form of radar that is used to create three-dimensional constructions, it will plot the elevations of the surface and confirm if there are still volcanoes and earthquakes on the planet.
It will also use an infrared scan to determine the type of rock, which is largely unknown, and whether active volcanoes are releasing water vapor into the atmosphere.
While the mission is led by NASA, the German Aerospace Center will provide the infrared mapper, while the Italian Space Agency and France’s National Center for Space Studies will contribute to the radar and other parts of the mission.
“It’s amazing 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 to its core,” said Tom Wagner. Scientist from NASA’s Discovery Program.
“It will be as if we have rediscovered the planet.”
NASA’s last Venus orbiter was Magellan, which arrived in 1990, but other spacecraft have made flybys since then.