Venus is going to get yet another visitor. In addition to the two NASA missions announced on 2 June, the European Space Agency (ESA) is sending its own orbiter called EnVision to help study why our sweltering neighbour is so different from Earth.
The US and the Soviet Union sent many spacecraft to study Venus starting in the 1960s, but the focus later shifted to Mars, and there have only been two dedicated missions to the planet since 1990 – ESA’s Venus Express orbiter and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Akatsuki mission.
Venus Express was mainly focused on atmospheric research; EnVision will have a slightly broader goal. Its main mission will be to understand how geological processes within Venus, such as volcanism and the venting of heat from the planet’s interior, have affected the atmosphere over time.
It will carry three main scientific instruments: a radar sounder to provide insight into the planet’s underground structure, a set of spectrometers to examine the chemical composition of Venus’s surface and atmosphere, and an additional radar system to map the surface. The final radar system will be provided by NASA as part of a collaboration between the two agencies.
EnVision is set to launch between 2031 and 2033, shortly after the two NASA missions – VERITAS and DAVINCI+ – which are scheduled to lift off between 2028 and 2030. Together, these three missions will provide us with the most detailed, comprehensive view of Venus we have ever had.
“Our growing mission fleet will give us, and future generations, the best insights ever into how our planetary neighbourhood works, particularly relevant in an era where we are discovering more and more unique exoplanet systems,” said Günther Hasinger, ESA’s director of science, in a statement.
This is important because if we want to be able to determine whether a planet beyond our solar system might be fit for life, we need to first understand why our closest neighbour is not.
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