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Explained: What is Shukrayaan-1, Isro’s ambitious mission to Venus?

After landing on the Moon, and launching a spacecraft to study the Sun, Isro is all set to launch Shukrayaan-1, a Venus orbiter mission

Data from NASA's Magellan spacecraft and Pioneer Venus Orbiter is used in an undated composite image of the planet Venus. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout via REUTERS.)

By Team Lounge

LAST PUBLISHED 02.10.2023  |  06:00 PM IST

Earlier this month, the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) confirmed that the Aditya-L1 spacecraft had travelled beyond a distance of 9.2 lakh km from Earth, successfully escaping the sphere of Earth's influence, and is now navigating its path towards the Sun-Earth Lagrange Point 1 (L1).

After its two recent successful missions, with both Chandrayaan-3 and Aditya-L1, the Bengaluru-headquartered Indian space agency is now working on a mission to Venus, with the Shukrayaan-1 Venus orbiter mission.

What is Shukrayaan-1?

Shukrayaan will be Isro’s first mission to Venus, which will involve a spacecraft to orbit Venus to study what lies below the surface of the hottest planet in the solar system and also unravel the mysteries under the sulfuric acid clouds enveloping it.

Addressing the Indian National Science Academy in Delhi last week, ISRO chief S Somanath said: "We have a lot of missions in the conceptual phase. A mission to Venus is already configured. Payloads have already developed for it."

According to a Press Trust of India report, Somanath said the space agency, apart from planning a mission to study the planet Venus, is working on two satellites to study space climate and its impact on the earth and conceptualising a project to land a spacecraft on Mars.

On the need to study Venus, the ISRO chief said the planet also has an atmosphere with atmospheric pressure 100 times that of earth near the surface. Somnath said the scientists don't know the reasons for high atmospheric pressure near the Venusian surface. He said the thick clouds enveloping Venus are full of acids and one cannot even penetrate the surface, the PTI report adds.

"It is important to understand the evolution of planetary bodies. Only if you look at Venus, Mars one can actually study what effects are there in your activities on the earth that actually makes it habitable or non-habitable. All this will depend on your understanding of it and the ability to act on it," Somanath said in the PTI report.

Mutliple reports have also suggested that Isro is also working on a second Mars mission. Shukrayaan is expected to be launched late next year.

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Who has been to Venus before?

According to US space agency Nasa, more than 40 spacecraft have launched for Venus. One spacecraft – Japan's Akatsuki – is currently in orbit. Three new Venus missions will launch in the next decade, the Nasa website says.

Nasa's Mariner 2 was the first spacecraft to visit any planet beyond Earth when it flew past Venus on December 14, 1962. Data gathered in a 42-minute scan forever changed how we see Earth's closest neighbor. It revealed Venus as a runaway global hothouse. Understanding what went wrong with Venus' climate could help protect Earth, the website explains.

Studying Venus, however, will not be an easy feat. Exploring the surface of Venus is difficult because of the intense heat and crushing air pressure. The longest any spacecraft has survived on the surface is a little over two hours – a record set by the Soviet Union's Venera 13 probe in 1981, the Nasa website explains, adding: “Nasa's DAVINCI mission is next up with a planned probe landing in 2031. The probe will focus on the atmospheric descent, but there is a chance it will send surface data for a few minutes... Nasa's VERITAS and ESA's EnVision will follow with orbital observations in the 2030s."

Also read: Why future missions to Venus will not be as easy as they look