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  • Voltaire Staff

European Space Agency to launch Venus mission in 2031



The European Space Agency (ESA) will launch a spacecraft in 2031 to unravel the secrets of Venus, the planet closest to Earth and most akin in resemblance.


The agency made the announcement on January 25 in a statement after its EnVision mission was adopted by the agency's science programme committte.


EnVision, the cosmic explorer will study Venus from its inner core to its outer atmosphere, offering crucial insights into why it differs so drastically from Earth.


ESA is leading the mission in partnership with NASA, which will provide the Synthetic Aperture Radar (VenSAR) and Deep Space Network support for critical mission phases.


The construction of the spacecraft and its instruments is slated to commence later this year, post the selection of an industrial contractor.

EnVision is scheduled to take off atop an Ariane 6 rocket from Europe's spaceport in French Guiana in 2031.


The agency chose Venus for exploration for its being the most Earth-like of the Sun’s terrestrial planets in terms of its size, composition and distance from the Sun.


"Yet at some point in planetary history, the two started to evolve very differently. Venus today is far too hot to host liquid water at its surface, but it may have had a more Earth-like climate for billions of years before developing a runaway greenhouse effect," ESA said on its website.


Venus presents a hostile environment with an atmosphere laden with thick clouds of carbon dioxide, and atmospheric pressure a staggering 90 times of that experienced on Earth. This dense layer of gas has triggered a runaway greenhouse effect, propelling temperatures on the planet to an extreme 460 degrees Celsius.


Rainfall on Venus consists of highly corrosive sulphuric acid, capable of causing severe burns to human skin within seconds. Adding to the peculiarities, Venus has a form of "snow," though not the kind suitable for a playful snowball fight.


EnVision will employ three spectrometers to analyse Venus's surface and atmosphere, alongside a radio science experiment using radio waves to explore the planet's internal structure and atmospheric properties.


The spacecraft will feature subsurface radar sounder to investigate what’s beneath the planet's surface, and VenSAR, a second radar instrument, will map the surface with a remarkable 10-metre resolution, offering valuable insights into surface texture.


"Special to EnVision is the mission’s approach to studying the entire planet as a system. It will investigate Venus’s surface, interior and atmosphere with unprecedented accuracy, allowing us to understand how they work and interact with each other," said Anne Grete Straume-Lindner, the mission’s project scientist.


EnVision is expected to build upon the groundwork laid by ESA's inaugural spacecraft, Venus Express, which meticulously mapped the planet's atmosphere from 2005 to 2014.


Unlike its predecessor, EnVision will not journey alone, and will be joined by NASA's DAVINCI and VERITAS expeditions, both slated for launch in the coming decade.

 

"The measurements EnVision makes will help unravel key mysteries of our hot neighbour. For example, EnVision will reveal how volcanoes, plate tectonics and asteroid impacts have shaped the Venusian surface, and how geologically active the planet is today," The Planetary Society, a group of science enthusiasts, started, among others, by Carl Sagan, said in a statement on its website.

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