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European Space Agency adds another new Venus mission

An illustration depicts the EnVision orbiter unfolding instruments as it nears Venus. Image courtesy of European Space Agency
An illustration depicts the EnVision orbiter unfolding instruments as it nears Venus. Image courtesy of European Space Agency

June 10 (UPI) -- The European Space Agency has approved a new mission to study Venus -- the third new mission to Venus to be announced in the past two weeks.

The ESA announced Thursday it will launch the EnVision orbiter in 2031 or 2032, with a budget of roughly $610 million.

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It will follow two NASA missions to Venus that are scheduled to launch in a three-year span starting in 2028. NASA announced those missions, known as DAVINCI+ and Veritas, on June 2.

EnVision will scan specific regions of the Venusian surface that may be selected using data from Veritas, said Günther Hasinger, ESA director of science, in an interview Thursday.

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"Venus has been kind of ignored for a long time. So I believe we will get similar details of Venus as we have today for Mars, once these missions are concluded," Hasinger said.

Such knowledge could help scientists combat the worst impact of climate change on Earth, since the Venusian atmosphere may have undergone similar changes, he said.

All three Venus missions will attempt to answer the same difficult question that has vexed scientists for decades: Why did Venus, which is similar in size and location in the solar system to Earth, evolve into a hellish environment with temperatures that can melt lead at the surface?

Veritas will map the entire surface of the planet, while EnVision targets mountainous regions known as tesserae. DAVINCI+ will plummet through the atmosphere to the surface in an hour-long journey as it samples the air using various sensors.

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EnVision's key instruments will be radar that can penetrate the thick sulfuric-acid clouds in the Venus atmosphere. NASA will supply key components for EnVision.

That radar will provide detailed maps of the surface -- 10 to 50 times more accurate than NASA's previous Magellan orbiter launched in 1989, said Adriana Ocampo, NASA's program scientist for the EnVision mission, in an interview.

"It's actually the same team that's working on EnVision and Veritas, so this would be complementary science. This will serve to maximize science to address these crucial questions about Venus and why it evolved so differently than Earth," Ocampo said.

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Scientists want to know if Venus ever had oceans or habitable conditions and whether the blistering hot world has active volcanoes and some kind of plate tectonics, said Scott Hensley, a senior research scientist with NASA's California-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in an interview.

"We're going to be a lot closer to understanding how Earth, Venus and Mars all ended up so differently. The data that we're going to get from these missions is going to go a long way to definitively answer a number of these key questions," Hensley said.

Out-of-this-world images from space

This composite image made from six frames shows the International Space Station, with a crew of seven aboard, in silhouette as it transits the sun at roughly 5 miles per second on April 23, 2021, as seen from Nottingham, Md. Aboard are: NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Mark Vande Hei; Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy, Pyotr Dubrov; and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi. Joining the crew aboard station the next day were Crew-2 mission crew members: Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur of NASA, JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet. Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA | License Photo

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