NASA recently made headlines when they announced two missions to our closest planetary neighbor, Venus. This surge in interest was spurred by the discovery of the chemical phosphine on Venus’ surface.
VERITAS will explore Venus’ tesserae – odd continent-like plateaus dotting its surface – as well as analyze its atmosphere with ultraviolet and infrared spectrometers.
Soviet spacecraft named Venera were launched into orbit around Venus as orbiters and landers, respectively. Venera 13 made an historic touchdown on March 1, 1982 near Venus’ Tessera Terrain which hosts some of its oldest rocks.
DAVINCI will launch a lander to Venus’ surface, where it will take pictures and measurements while using radar to see through its thick sulfuric acid clouds.
Venera 9 and 10 were the first spacecraft to return color pictures of Venus. Each spacecraft combined an orbiter with a lander, entering Venus’ atmosphere on October 20 and landing for 53 minutes before returning with images.
They conducted extensive atmospheric composition research, noting how different climate histories had led to various ratios of noble gases such as argon and krypton in the atmosphere. Furthermore, their probes detected signs of complex cloud chemistry.
The lander component will use an autofluorescing nephelometer instrument to illuminate cloud droplets with laser beams, which allows scientists to determine their composition – perhaps providing insights into Earth’s water history.
The spacecraft will study how Venus’ atmosphere changes with altitude, providing an opportunity for planetary scientists to gain more insight into why large, rocky planets like Earth or Venus may become habitable or scorched wasteland environments.
Scout drones would collect high resolution surface images. Unfortunately, due to Venusian clouds obscuring views from orbit, it would not be practical for such observations.
Venera-13 and 14 landers probes (launched October 30 and November 4, 1981, respectively) made successful landings on Venus for 127 minutes each, transmitting color images back home as well as taking soil samples for analysis.
Mars Rover also provided scientists with maps of Venus that helped them gain a better understanding of its turbulent past.
Venera 14 arrived 950 km southwest of Venera 13 near Phoebe Regio’s eastern flank and transmitted back grainy black-and-white television images showing Venusian landscape.
This Soviet lander endured extreme heat and pressure for an hour as it plummeted toward the planet’s surface, relaying information as it traveled. Additionally, its results provided improved mass-spectrometry analysis as well as new temperature and pressure soundings.
As with the European Space Agency’s EnVision mission, VERITAS will include a descent probe for exploring Venus’ surface and atmosphere. However, its primary strength will lie with a cutting-edge radar system capable of creating detailed maps of Venus.
The two spacecraft were launched into nearly polar orbits to allow them to revisit a specific area of Venus every eight months and study its surface properties using 8 cm band side-looking radar mappers.
This two-spacecraft mission used side-looking radar mappers to study Venus’ surface. Both spacecraft were placed into nearly polar orbits daily for 8 months of study – from nearly the North pole all the way northwards up to 30 degrees North latitude.
Measured noble gases (argon, krypton and xenon) in Venus’ atmosphere to understand its climate history as well as study its surface composition.
Venus has long been considered a formidable challenge to explore, due to its scorching temperatures and crushing pressure that quickly destroy landing probes. Only four Soviet Union Venera probes have ever managed to send back images from its surface.
One of these, Venera 8, transmitted 23 minutes of very weak signals after its successful descent and provided scientists with invaluable data on Venus’ temperature.
Soviet scientists launched two Venera spacecraft, each composed of an orbiter and lander, toward Venus on October 22, 1975. Once detached from their respective orbiters, each lander entered Venus’ dense atmosphere before eventually landing safely on October 22, 1975.
The lander relayed back black-and-white images from its surface and collected data for 53 minutes. Furthermore, it used an autofluorescing nephelometer to flash an ultraviolet laser onto droplets in Venus’ atmosphere to reveal their chemical makeup.
This lander, which would likely only survive for an hour in Venus’ extreme temperatures, will sniff out signs of water-forming minerals that might shed more light on Venus’ history and reveal any past oceans it might have had. Scientists hope such minerals will provide important clues.
Seager noted that this mission will demonstrate the vital role private enterprise can play in planetary science. It will be built by California-based Rocket Lab using their Electron rocket.