Delays to the first of three missions making the long-awaited return to the scorching planet Venus, which scientists say hasn’t had enough robotic visitors in recent decades, could affect the other two missions to explore our planet. neighboring planet.
Late last year, NASA pushed the VERITAS (or Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography and Spectroscopy mission), initially scheduled to fly in 2027 to inaugurate the “Decade of Venus“, at the earliest in 2031. However, the White House’s 2024 budget proposal for NASA, announced in March 2023, maintains mission funding for VERITAS at only $1.5 million per year for the near future. , placing the mission in a “freezer.” Due to NASA’s decision to use much of the funding that supported the project’s engineering operations for other missions facing cost overruns, much of the work on the VERITAS mission is now stalled. indefinite period disbanded the mission’s engineering wing, and scientists are now concerned about its impact on two other Venus-related missions.
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“VERITAS has incredible synergy with other missions,” Stephen Kane, an astronomer at the University of California, Riverside, told Space.com.
VERITAS was to be the first mission to return to Venus from NASA Magellan spacecraft in orbit nearly 30 years ago. The spacecraft “will contribute to the fundamental measurements needed for all types of fundamental science of Venus,” Darby Dyar, deputy principal investigator at VERITAS, told Space.com.
Some of these measurements, like mapping the surface of Venus with at least three times the resolution of Magellan, were intended to support another NASA Venus mission… da vinci (or Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gas, Chemistry, and Imaging).
Scheduled to reach Venus in the early 2030s, DAVINCI will drop a probe into the planet’s thick clouds that will rise to the surface. According to the initial plan, VERITAS would have already arrived on Venus before the launch of DAVINCI, so the scientists hoped to use its data to select the best landing site for the DAVINCI probe. “The surface mapping provided by VERITAS would have been incredibly helpful in refining the deployment of DAVINCI,” Kane told Space.com.
Another mission initially intended to benefit from VERITAS data is EnVision, led by the European Space Agency (ESA) and scheduled for launch in the early 2030s to study the climate of Venus. Now EnVision is expected to visit the planet around the same time as VERITAS’ delayed arrival – whether it survives NASA’s budget problems.
This result is “less than ideal as the EnVision team hoped to have the VERITAS data already in hand,” Paul Byrne, professor of astronomy at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, told Space.com .
Parallel missions also mean that identical instruments on both missions would have to be built at the same time. For example, the German Aerospace Center (or DLR) builds the Venus Emissivity Mapper (VEM) for VERITAS and VenSpec-M for EnVision. The two instruments were meant to complement each other in monitoring the planet’s surface, so DLR originally planned to build VERITAS’ instrument first, then EnVision’s.
“But with the current plan, the DLR team could build two copies of the instrument suite simultaneously,” Byrne said. “It will put them under pressure in terms of time and manpower.”
Scientists are also concerned that the simultaneous presence of VERITAS and EnVision on Venus will result in a less than ideal output for at least some of the expected science, including now having shorter than desired timelines for volcano detection. venusians.
For example, both missions’ VEM and VenSpec-M mapping instruments will look for active lava flows on the planet’s surface, which could provide strong evidence that the planet is still volcanically active. Such discoveries will add to the recent discovery of an active volcano on Venus, which scientists discovered while sifting through 30-year-old data collected by NASA’s Magellan spacecraft.
The discovery was possible because two images clicked eight months apart showed that a volcanic vent had noticeably enlarged and also changed shape, reflecting recent volcanic activity. Scientists hope to find similar changes with future missions, so the arrivals of VERITAS and EnVision were staggered initially, so that their data would complement each other.
“By delaying, we are reducing the separation between VERITAS and EnVision.” Darby told Space.com. “This will give a shorter delay for detections.”
While the VERITAS engineering team is currently retiring in accordance with NASA instructions, its science team is supported by limited funding of $1.5 million per year and continues to prepare for the mission while exploring the ways to move the launch date before 2031.