NASA Returning To Venus For First Time In 30 Years
NASA has announced two new missions to Venus are due to launch within the next 10 years, marking the first return to the planet for more than three decades.
The space agency confirmed the two missions would each receive $500 million in funding, and would aim to explore the atmosphere and geology of the terrestrial planet. They’re expected to take off between 2028 and 2030.
While other probes have flown past the planet over the years, the last spacecraft to make a proper visit was the Magellan orbiter – a robotic probe that arrived at Venus in 1991 after a two year voyage – which helped NASA to successfully map the surface of the planet.
In a statement announcing the new missions, NASA administrator Bill Nelson said the programs would give scientists the ‘chance to investigate a planet we haven’t been to in more than 30 years.’
Venus lies within Earth’s orbit, and was actually the first planet to be visited by a spacecraft when the Mariner 2 conducted a fly-by in 1962. It was also the first planet to be landed on, with the successful touch down of Venera 7 in 1970, before attention began turning to Mars for its potential to support a human colony.
As the hottest planet in the solar system, Venus burns at a surface temperate of 500°C, but is still one of only three terrestrial – or rocky – planets other than Earth. One of the new missions, the Davinci+, is expected to provide the first high resolution images of Venus’s geological features, which scientists hope could provide answers as to whether the planet has tectonic plates like Earth.
Davinci+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging) will also measure the planet’s atmosphere, and hopefully determine whether or not it ever had an ocean, BBC News reports.
The second mission, Veritas (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy) aims to understand how a planet with many similar characteristics to Earth came to be so different from our home planet, and will use radar to study Venus’s geological characteristics.
In a statement as part of the announcement, Tom Wagner, who leads the Discovery Program responsible for selecting new NASA Solar System missions, said the new probes would be ‘as if we have rediscovered the planet.’
He added: ‘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 the sky through the volcanoes on its surface all the way down to its very core.’
Featured Image Credit: PA Images
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