NASA will soon launch two missions to Venus to understand how the planet became an inferno like world when it has many other characteristics similar to Earth. The Missions- DAVINCI (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry and Imaging) and VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, INSAR, Topography and Spectroscopy) are the final selections from four mission concepts NASA picked in February 2020 as part of the agency’s Discovery 2019 competition.
The Space Agency said that DAVINCT and VERITAS were chosen based on their potential scientific value and the feasibility of their development plans. The project Teams will now work to finalize their requirements, designs, and development plans, the space agency said.
NASA’s associate administrator for science Thomas Zurbuchen said that they were revving planetary science program with intense exploration of a world that NASA has not visited in over 30 years. “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,” he said.
NASA is awarding about 500 million dollars per mission for development. Each is expected to launch in the 2028-2030 timeframe.
DAVINCI will measure the composition of Venus’ atmosphere to understand how it formed and evolved. It will also 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 to the Earth’s. DAVINCI would be the first U.S.-led mission to Venus atmosphere since 1978. James Garvin of Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is the principal investigator. Goddard provides project management
This will map Venus surface to determine the planet’s geologic history and understand why it developed 50 differently than Earth. They have synthetic aperture radar and chart surface elevations over nearly the entire planet to create 3D reconstructions of topography. It is to see if plate tectonics and volcanism are still active on Venus.
VERITAS will also map infrared emissions from Venus surface to map its rock type. It will also look if active volcanoes are releasing water vapour into the atmosphere. Suzanne Smrekar of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern Califomio, is the principal investigator. JPL provides project management. The German Aerospace Center will provide the infrared mapper with the Italian Space Agency and France’s Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales contributing to the radar and other parts of the mission.
TO GO DEEPER
Zurbuchen hoped that the data from the two missions would be used by the broadest possible cross section of the scientific community. NASA’s Discovery Program scientist Tom Wagner believed that the combined results of these missions would tell about the planet from the clouds in its sky through the volcanoes on its surface all the way down to its very core, “It will be as if we have rediscovered the planet,” he said. 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, built by JPL and funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate The ultra-precise clock signal generated with this technology will enable autonomous spacecraft manoeuvres and enhance radio science observations DAVINCI will host the Compact Ultraviolet to Visible Imaging Spectrometer (CUVIS) built by Goddard. It will make high resolution\ measurements of ultraviolet light using a new instrument based on freeform optics. These will be used to determine the nature of the unknown ultraviolet absorber in Venus’ atmosphere that absorbs up to half the incoming solar energy.
Established in 1992, NASA’s Discovery Program has supported the development and implementation of over 20 missions and instruments. These selections are part of the ninth Discovery Program competition.
The concepts were chosen from proposals submitted in 2019 under NASA Announcement of Opportunity NNHIOZDAOI00. The selected investigations will be managed by the Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA’S Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama as part of the Discovery Program. The Discovery Program conducts space science investigations in the Planetary Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The goals of the program are to provide frequent opportunities for principal investigator-led investigations in planetary sciences that can be accomplished under a not-to-exceed cost cap.