NASA announced June 2 that it has selected a pair of missions to explore Venus, Earth’s nearest planetary neighbor.
Part of the agency’s Discovery Program, the DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging) and VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy) missions will be the first NASA-led missions to explore Venus since the conclusion of the four-year Magellan mission in 1994.
“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.”
DAVINCI+ is a spherical descent sphere designed to take detailed measurements of the composition of the planet’s atmosphere. Additionally, the mission seeks to take the first high-resolution images of the planet’s tesserae, a geologically feature comparable to Earth’s continents.
The VERITAS orbiter will utilise a synthetic aperture radar to create 3D reconstructions of the topography of Venus. Researchers expect the reconstructions to give a glimpse into the planet’s geological history and confirm if plate tectonics and volcanism are still active on Venus.
In addition to the two mission’s primary focus, each will carry a secondary demonstration payload.
DAVINCI+ will carry the Compact Ultraviolet to Visible Imaging Spectrometer (CUVIS) built by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. CUVIS aims to make high-resolution measurements of ultraviolet light in an effort to understand the unknown ultraviolet absorber in Venus’ atmosphere.
VERITAS will host the Deep Space Atomic Clock-2. Built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the ultra-precise clock signal generated by the clock is expected to pave the way to enable autonomous spacecraft maneuvers.
NASA’s decision to go ahead with the DAVINCI+ and VERITAS Venus missions is the final phase of the agency’s Discovery 2019 competition.
The Discovery Program’s proposal competitions invite scientists and engineers to propose planetary science missions that expand what we know about the solar system and our place in it. Following the conclusion of an initial round of what is the ninth competition since the program was established in 1992, four finalists were selected in February 2020 with each receiving $3 million to develop and mature their mission concepts.
With DAVINCI+ and VERITAS selected as the Discovery 2019 missions, work now begins on bringing them to life. The pair of intrepid explorers are expected to begin their expeditions to Earth’s nearest neighbour between 2028 and 2030.