EnVision: After NASA, European Space Agency announces new Venus probe: Everything to know about the 2030s mission

Venus is similar to Earth in size as well as composition. (Image: ESA/Paris Observatory/VR2 Planets)

Space mission to Venus: A few days after US space agency NASA announced that it had selected two missions to Venus, now the European Space Agency (ESA) has said that EnVision would be its next mission to head to Venus as an orbiter. The mission has been slated for some time in the 2030s at the moment, the agency said in a statement. NASA, meanwhile, is planning to send DAVINCI+ and VERITAS missions to Venus for an expected cost of $500 million each. The missions, which have been selected on the basis of their scientific value and feasibility, are likely to be launched between 2028 and 2030. Interestingly, NASA would also be contributing to the EnVision mission.

Venus: Fascination with Venus

Venus is similar to Earth in size as well as composition. However, that is where the similarities between the two planets seem to stop, because while Earth has an atmosphere suitable for millions of lifeforms, Venus has a toxic atmosphere that makes the surface temperature so high (up to 471 degrees Celsius) that spacecrafts visiting the planet cannot sustain for long. This naturally means that humans have never visited the neighbouring planet, and as things stand currently, that doesn’t seem to be a possibility any time soon.

Venus’ atmosphere is so thick that is traps the heat coming from the Sun, and scientists are curious to know what could have happened on the planet to render it inhospitable to such an extent, and if this could somehow also be an indication of what could happen to Earth if humans continue to tamper with the environment. Scientists are also keen to find out if the planet is active geologically and if it maybe once also consisted of an ocean.

ESA and NASA’s missions hope to find clues into these aspects of the planet.

ESA’s EnVision: The aim of the Venusian mission

ESA said that EnVision would have numerous instruments, including a sounder for revealing underground layering and spectrometers to understand the surface and the atmosphere of Venus. With the help of the spectrometers, the scientists aim to look at the composition of the surface and the gases that form the atmosphere. The spectrometer would also monitor any changes that would indicate active volcanic activity. Meanwhile, with the help of a radar provided by NASA, the mission would image as well as map the Venusian surface.

The internal structure and the gravity field of Venus would also be studied with the help of a radio science experiment, the space agency said, adding that the aim of the mission is to collectively study Venus to be able to understand how the different boundaries, i.e. interior, surface and atmosphere, of the planet interact with each other, in order to gain an overall understanding of the structure and the process of Venus.

The backdrop

The ESA said that EnVision would be following the agency’s Venus Express mission that was active between 2005 and 2014. That mission had looked at the atmosphere of the planet, but it had also made discoveries that pointed towards the likely presence of volcanic hotspots on the surface. Apart from this, the Akatsuki spacecraft sent by Japan’s space agency to study the atmosphere in 2015 is also going to help as the basis of the new mission. The agency is also hoping to improve significantly on the surface images obtained with the help of radar on NASA’s Magellan mission back in the 1990s.

What next?

ESA has said that now, the mission will move to its Definition Phase where the design of the instruments as well as the satellite would be finalised, after which, the mission would be built and tested by an industrial contractor in Europe. The mission is slated to be launched on Ariane 6 rocket, the agency added, and the earliest opportunity for such a launch is 2031, after which 2032 and 2033 would be the next possible options.

The mission would reach Venus in a timespan of 15 months, and another 16 months would be needed to reach the orbit circularisation phase.

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