Venus receives some long overdue love.
On Wednesday (June 2nd), NASA announced it would do so run two missions to Earth’s hellish hot sister by 2030 – an orbit called VERITAS and an atmospheric probe known as DAVINCI +.
The duo will break for a long time Venus land for the space agency, which did not launch a special mission to the second rock from the sun from Magellan’s radar mapping orbit in 1989.
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Other organizations also place Venus in the cross. For example, space agencies in Europe, India and Russia are developing concepts for Venus̵
In fact, we may be witnessing the beginning of a bona fide campaign to explore Venus.
“I guess people will be surprised at how interesting it is [Venus] is, “said planetary scientist David Greenspoon, a member of the DAVINCI + team and a longtime advocate of more in-depth study of Venus.
“And if that’s the case, then the results of the early missions will also fuel the desire for more missions, because it’s a very complex and vibrant and interesting place,” Greenspoon, who is based at the Planetary Science Institute, told Space.com.
Focus on early research
Venus has been the center of attention before. The Soviet Union guided the planet frequently from the 1960s to the mid-1980s with its Venus and Vega programs, thus listing the various stages of the study (despite a number of failed launches).
In October 1967, for example, Venus 4 became the first probe to ever send data from the atmosphere of another world, finding that the surface of Venus was incredibly hot and its air was surprisingly thick. Three years later, Venera 7 made the first successful soft landing on a planet other than Earth.
In 1982 Venus 13 lander recorded the first sound of its kind on the surface of another world (an achievement recently reflected on Mars from NASA’s Perseverance rover). And in the mid-1980s, the Vega 1 and Vega 2 missions successfully deployed balloon probes in the dense Venusian atmosphere, another first off-Earth.
The United States organized several missions to Venus during this period, though not as many as their Cold War rival. NASA’s Mariner 2, Mariner 5, and Mariner 10 spacecraft flew on the planet in 1962, 1967, and 1974, respectively. And in 1978, the space agency launched both the Pioneer Venus Orbiter and the Pioneer Venus Multiprobe. The multi-sample sent four vessel-laden vessels The atmosphere of Venus in December of that year and the orbital studied Venus from above until 1992.
Then there was Magellan, which was the first interplanetary mission ever launched by space shuttle. The probe mapped Venus in detail using synthetic aperture radar until October 1994, when its operators sent Magellan to the Venusian atmosphere until his death.
Then the list becomes quite thin. European Venus Express orbit has explored the planet with a focus on its atmosphere from 2006 to 2014. And Japan Akatsuki orbiter has been doing its own atmospheric research since arriving on Venus, after some stubborn troubleshooting, in December 2015.
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Return to Venus
Venus faded as a target for research for several reasons. The collapse of the Soviet Union and its eventual collapse in the early 1990s had a chilling effect, for example; Vega 2 remains the last successful all-home interplanetary mission launched by the Soviet Union or its successor, Russia. (The Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos and the European Space Agency are working together on ExoMars a project that launched an orbit to the Red Planet in 2016 and plans to send a rover there to hunt for life in 2022).
In addition, in the 1990s and beyond, NASA increasingly focused its efforts on robotic research Mars, whose surface bears unequivocal signs of past water activities and is much friendlier to landers and rovers. Even the most successful landers on Venus have survived for hours on the planet’s surface, which is hot enough to melt lead.
“It is somewhat understandable why Venus was not chosen for some time [by NASA]because Venus is a difficult place to explore, “Greenspoon said.” You will never get the same data return, in terms of megabit data, from a Venus mission as you would from a Mars mission. “
But the pendulum could only sway so far from Venus before returning to the path of the planet. For starters, as scientists have gathered more and more detailed knowledge about other bodies in the solar system such as Mars, Mercury and Pluto, gaps in our understanding of Venus, which is similar to Earth in size and mass, are becoming increasingly apparent.
“Venus has been so neglected that now the mysteries are almost a disturbance or certainly an obstacle to our full understanding of our solar system,” Greenspoon said.
In addition, scientists believe that Venus was once very different – a calm, temperate world with oceans, rivers and streams. Recent research even suggests that the planet’s surface was habitable for an Earth-like life of several billion yearswhile the escaping greenhouse effect persisted about 700 million years ago.
And parts of Venus may still be habitable today. About 50 miles (50 kilometers) above the burning surface of the planet, temperatures and pressures are quite similar to Earth, so microbes are possible even now reside in the Venusian skywalking with the sulfuric acid clouds.
Interestingly, these skies have mysterious dark spots where ultraviolet radiation is absorbed – perhaps from a sulfur-based pigment that microbes produce to protect against sunburn, some scientists have suggested. And a team of researchers recently announced they would do so noticed the signature of phosphine, a possible biosignature gas, around this 30-mile altitude. However, the apparent finding of phosphine has not been confirmed by other teams and remains the subject of considerable discussion and debate.
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So Venus has become a more attractive astrobiological target in recent years, just like search for extraterrestrial life increasingly moved from scientific frontiers to mass flow.
This transition was aided by the ongoing exoplanet revolution, which revealed that this is the universe teeming with potentially habitable worlds. And exoplanet scientists want to learn more about Venus, adding to the planet’s accumulating appeal.
“There is a lot of interest from exoplanet community in the study of Venus, because it is obvious to anyone who thinks about solar systems, planetary systems, that understanding the difference between Venus and Earth is really key to understanding how planets evolve as a whole and how living conditions evolve, “he said. Greenspoon.
There is also a more practical reason to learn exactly how Venus turned into a burning hellish landscape. Humanity is ultimately pushing the Earth in this dangerous direction by deforestation and burning fossil fuels, and Venus could be a natural laboratory in addition to the warning story.
“There’s a lot we still need to learn about the climate and how it’s changing on Earth-like planets, and Venus, as an extreme case, can really push our models to the limit,” Greenspoon said. “In a comparative study of such planets, there is a value that makes you wiser about how your own functions and changes, and I think Venus is too valuable in this regard not to be ignored anymore.”
VERITAS and DAVINCI + were selected by NASA’s Discovery program, which develops relatively inexpensive research projects. The cost of each mission is limited to about $ 500 million and each is expected to launch between 2028 and 2030.
VERITAS (short for “Venus Emissionsvity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography and Spectroscopy”) will detail the surface of Venus from orbit using radar and monitor infrared surface emissions, revealing how the appearance of rocks varies from place to place. Such observations will shed light on the geological history and climate of Venus and help researchers determine whether the planet is hosting active plate tectonics and volcanism today, NASA officials said.
DAVINCI + (“Study of Venus’s Deep Atmospheres of Noble Gases, Chemistry and Images”) will send a “descending sphere” through Venus’s dense air. The probe will measure the atmospheric composition when it falls, returning data that will teach scientists more about how the planet became a greenhouse. The DAVINCI + team also plans to look for phosphine, Greenspoon said.
“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 very essence,” said NASA Discovery Program scientist Tom Wagner. said in a statement on Wednesday. “It’s like we rediscovered the planet.”
NASA’s two missions will follow in the footsteps of Venus’s privately funded efforts if all goes according to plan: Rocket Lab aims to launch a mission to Venus in 2023 using its Electron rocket and Photon satellite bus. Details are still being worked out, but the goal is to use an atmospheric probe to catch signs of life in the calm spot of Venus’ sky.
“We’ll learn a lot on the way there and we’ll have a crack to see if we can find out what’s in this atmosphere,” Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck said last summer when he announced the project. “And who knows? You can hit the jackpot.”
This initial mission could even launch a long-running Rocket Lab Venus campaign, Beck said.
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These private missions, in turn, could be part of a larger global exploration effort, as there are other plans for Venus. For example, a concept for the orbit of Venus called EnVision is one of them three middle class missions that the European Space Agency is considering launching in 2032. The winner is expected to be announced this month, perhaps this week.
The Indian Space Research Organization is developing its own Venus mission, called Shukrayaan-1, which will launch in 2024 or 2026. This project will include an orbit and a balloon probe.
And Russia is finally looking to return to Venus with an ambitious mission called Venera-D, which will include an orbiter, a lander and atmospheric balloons. Venera-D will launch in 2029 if all goes according to plan.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out there“(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tate), a book on the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow it on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.