NASA and Russia are working together to potentially send a mission to Venus next decade. It could include an orbiter, lander, and even an airship to fly in the upper atmosphere of Venus.
The mission is called Venera-D, where D stands for Dolgozhivuschaya (long-lasting in Russian). It could launch in either 2026 or 2027, taking about 200 days to reach the hottest planet in our Solar System.
A team of US and Russian scientists are going to meet next week discuss the mission, with a report recently being released about its goals.
The purpose of the mission would be to investigate whether Venus once had oceans and a habitable environment, which we think might be a possibility a few billion years ago. This was before the Sun’s activity increased, releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide in the planet’s rocks.
This thickened the atmosphere, ultimately evaporating the water and leading to the hellish world we see today, with a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead at 470°C (880°F) and a pressure equivalent to standing at the bottom of an ocean.
“While Venus is known as our ‘sister planet,’ we have much to learn, including whether it may have once had oceans and harbored life,” said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, in a statement.
“By understanding the processes at work at Venus and Mars, we will have a more complete picture about how terrestrial planets evolve over time and obtain insight into the Earth’s past, present and future.”
The mission may include a glider (artist's impression shown). Northrop Grumman
NASA has not sent a mission to Venus since Magellan in 1990, and while this would be a partnership with Russia, it would be an important return to the planet. Russia, then the Soviet Union, sent numerous landers and probes to Venus in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s as part of the Venera and Vega programs.
According to the report, the lander and orbiter would be used to study the greenhouse effect on Venus, and also better understand its geology. Owing to the intense conditions at Venus, the lander would likely only last on the surface for a few hours.
As for the airship, this would be based on a design being developed by Northrop-Grumman called the Venus Atmosphere Mobile Platform (VAMP). This propeller-powered vehicle would fly 50 to 62 kilometers (31 to 39 miles) above the surface of Venus for 117 Earth days, in a region that’s thought to have Earth-like conditions with a similar atmospheric composition and temperature.
Both the lander and VAMP would be taken to Venus and released by the orbiter. Whether all three go ahead, or just the orbiter and lander, is to be decided. But having a glider flying through the clouds of Venus would be pretty awesome.