New NASA Missions To Study Venus
- NASA has selected two new missions to Venus, Earth’s nearest planetary neighbour.
- A part of NASA’s Discovery Program, the missions aim to understand how Venus became an inferno-like world when it has so many other characteristics similar to ours – and may have been the first habitable world in the solar system, complete with an ocean and Earth-like climate.
The Two Missions
- DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging) 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 consists of a descent sphere that will plunge through the planet’s thick atmosphere, making precise measurements of noble gases and other elements to understand why Venus’ atmosphere is a runaway hothouse compared the Earth’s.
- It 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.
- This would be the first U.S.-led mission to Venus’ atmosphere since 1978, and the results from DAVINCI+ could reshape our understanding of terrestrial planet formation in our solar system and beyond.
- James Garvin of Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is the principal investigator. Goddard provides project management.
- VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy) will map Venus’ surface to determine the planet’s geologic history and understand why it developed so differently than Earth.
- Orbiting Venus 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 vapor into the atmosphere.
Technology Demonstration with above two Missions
- In addition to the two missions, NASA selected a pair of technology demonstrations to fly along with them. VERITAS will host the Deep Space Atomic Clock-2. The ultra-precise clock signal generated with this technology will ultimately help enable autonomous spacecraft maneuvers and enhance radio science observations.
- DAVINCI+ will host the Compact Ultraviolet to Visible Imaging Spectrometer (CUVIS). 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.