The hottest planet in the solar system, Venus, may have once been a habitable world with oceans and Earth-like climate patterns. As a part of their Discovery Program, NASA has selected two different missions to go to Venus in order to better understand how an originally Earth-like planet became the “inferno-like world” that it currently is. The two missions in charge of exploring the planet are DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging) and VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy).
The Discovery Program includes a series of planetary science missions that complement NASA’s larger flagship missions, but use less time and resources. Originally started in 1992, the program’s purpose is to deepen our understanding of our solar system by taking a unique approach to space exploration. Teams of scientists and engineers submit proposals that are reviewed and eventually chosen by the Planetary Missions Program Office at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
One of the missions exploring Venus, DAVINCI+, consists of a sphere that will descend through Venus' atmosphere, taking measurements of noble gases and other elements to understand how the planet formed, evolved, and whether or not it ever had any oceans . The second mission exploring Venus, the VERITAS mission, will map the surface of Venus in search of answers of how the planet diverged from Earth in its geologic history. Both of these Discovery Program missions are set to launch between 2028 and 2030.
NASA also decided on two new technologies to be showcased alongside these missions. DAVINCI+ will contain Compact Ultraviolet to Visible Imaging Spectrometer (CUVIS), which was built by Goddard. CUVIS is a new freeform optics technology that can make high resolution measurements of ultraviolet light. VERITAS will contain the Deep Space Atomic Clock-2 which helps make deep space navigation systems more autonomous.
“We’re revving up our planetary science program with intense exploration of a world that NASA hasn’t visited in over 30 years,” says Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate. “Using cutting-edge technologies that NASA has developed and refined over many years of missions and technology programs, we’re ushering in a new decade of Venus to understand how an Earth-like planet can become a hothouse. Our goals are profound. It is not just understanding the evolution of planets and habitability in our own solar system, but extending beyond these boundaries to exoplanets, an exciting and emerging area of research for NASA.”
NASA last visited Venus with the Magellan mission in 1990. Magellan was the first spacecraft to map Venus.It spent four years orbiting the planet and collecting data. Although NASA lost contact with the probe before it reached the surface of the planet, it was considered one of the most successful deep space missions.
Since then, NASA has primarily been focused on missions regarding Mars(though other spacecrafts from other countries’ space programs have made trips to Venus). Finally however,, DAVINCI+ and VERITAS will make NASA’s long overdue trip to the inferno-like planet. NASA’s Discovery Program scientist Tom Wagner says “it will be as if we have rediscovered the planet.”