NASA scientists will discuss Venus exploration with Russian colleagues
After releasing a joint report proposing a robotic mission to Venus, American and Russian scientists will meet this week to identifying shared scientific goals for the potential project.
Titled Venera-D: Expanding our Horizon of Terrestrial Planet Climate and Geology through the Comprehensive Exploration of Venus, the proposal was put together by a joint team of scientists representing both NASA and the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Space Research Institute (IKI).
It explores the feasibility of a Venus orbiter and lander as well as a solar-powered airship to study the planet’s upper atmosphere. The mission would launch sometime after 2025. Copies of the report, dated Jan. 31, 2017, were sent to both NASA and the Russian IKI.
To date, Russia’s Venera probes are the only missions to have successfully landed on Venus and endured its extreme conditions. The program resulted in nine successful landings between Dec. 15, 1970 and June 15, 1985.
NASA conducted its first flyby of the planet with Mariner 2 in December 1962. More recently, its Magellan spacecraft orbited Venus for four years between 1990 and 1994, during which time it used radar to map 98 percent of the planet. Magellan’s images have a resolution of 330 feet (100 meters) or better.
Venus is sometimes referred to as Earth’s twin because both planets have similar compositions and sizes. Yet the two worlds took divergent paths long ago when a runaway greenhouse effect heated Venus to the point that all of its water boiled away.
The hottest planet in the Solar System, Venus has surface temperatures as high as 880 degrees Fahrenheit (471 degrees Celsius), hot enough to melt lead. Moreover, the pressure at the surface is about 90 atmospheres – about the same as the pressure from a depth of 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) in Earth’s oceans.
The hot temperatures cause electronics to overheat, which is why spacecraft do not last long in the atmosphere or on the surface. The probe that lasted longest on the surface was Venera 13 in 1982. It lasted for only 127 minutes.
Another major difference is that Venus rotates in the opposite direction of Earth and most other Solar System planets. That rotation lasts 243 Earth days, which is the longest in the Solar System.
Additionally, beneath its thick atmosphere, volcanoes and deformed mountains have been seen by spacecraft.
“While Venus is known as our ‘sister planet’, we have much to learn, including whether it may have once had oceans and harbored life. By understanding the processes at work at Venus and Mars, we will have a more complete picture of how terrestrial planets evolve over time and obtain insight into the Earth’s past, present, and future,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.
As outlined in the report, the potential Venera-D mission proposes a probe that will orbit Venus for three years, a lander capable of surviving several hours on the planet’s surface, and a possible airship that would begin a descent with the lander, then separate upon entering the atmosphere, which it will study for up to three months.
“This potential collaboration makes for an enriching partnership to maximize the science results from Venera-D and continue the exploration of this key planet in our solar system,” said Adriana Ocampo, leader of the Joint Science Definition Team at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC.
David Senske of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who is also co-chair of the U.S. Venera-D science definition team, said that one of the major goals of a possible joint U.S.-Russia mission is a better understanding of Venus’s current climate as a means of gaining insight into the mechanism that triggered its runaway greenhouse effect.
Laurel Kornfeld is an amateur astronomer and freelance writer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program. Her writings have been published online in The Atlantic, Astronomy magazine’s guest blog section, the UK Space Conference, the 2009 IAU General Assembly newspaper, The Space Reporter, and newsletters of various astronomy clubs. She is a member of the Cranford, NJ-based Amateur Astronomers, Inc. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.