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Explained: What is ESA's EnVision mission to Venus?

European Space Agency's EnVision mission, scheduled to launch in 2031, will be the first to directly probe under the surface of Venus using radar technology

EnVision will provide much-awaited answers to questions about Venus,
EnVision will provide much-awaited answers to questions about Venus, (EnVision ESA)

The European Space Agency (ESA) has officially ‘adopted’ the EnVision mission, which aims to provide important new insights into Venus, Earth’s closest planetary neighbour. 

The term ‘adopted’ indicates that the study phase of the mission is now complete and it is scheduled to launch in 2031 aboard an Ariane 6 rocket.

EnVision will be the first mission to directly probe under the surface of an inhospitably hot planet using radar technology, the ESA said on its official website recently. 

Also read: Destination Venus: A third new robotic explorer on the horizon

“Since the mission was selected back in 2021, we have advanced from broad science goals to a concrete mission plan,” ESA EnVision study manager Thomas Voirin said on the ESA website. The mission will provide much-awaited answers to questions about Venus, which is often referred to as the least understood of the Solar System’s terrestrial planets, Voirin added.

For a long time, one of the key questions has been, why Venus - which is around the same size as Earth and has a similar composition - has a drastically different environment. Venus has the densest atmosphere of all the rocky bodies of the solar system. Furthermore, it is completely covered by opaque clouds made mostly of sulphuric acid. Its surface temperature is 464 °C on average, with air pressure that is 92 times bigger than people experience on Earth’s surface, ESA revealed. Scientists have wondered if Venus has ever sustained life and what made its atmosphere toxic.

Through EnVision, scientists aim to understand how volcanoes, plate tectonics and asteroid impacts have impacted the Venusian surface, and examine whether the planet is geologically active, ESA added in its statement. EnVision’s instruments include a sounder that can help reveal underground layering and collect data about the structure and thickness of Venus's core, mantle and crust.

It will also be equipped with three different spectrometers to study the composition of the planet's surface and atmosphere. The spectrometers will look for trace amounts of gases in the atmosphere and analyse surface composition to check for changes that could indicate the presence of active volcanism. 

A Nasa-provided radar will image and map the surface. It will also conduct a radio science experiment where radio waves will be used to study Venus’s internal structure and properties of the atmosphere.

This will be the second European mission to Venus. ESA’s Venus Express, which was active from 2005 to 2014, studied the planet’s atmosphere and also made significant discoveries that indicated possible volcanic hotspots on the planet’s surface.

EnVision will work with Nasa’s upcoming DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble Gases, Chemistry, and Imaging) and VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy) missions to provide the most comprehensive study of Venus till date.

“Special to EnVision is the mission’s approach to studying the entire planet as a system. It will investigate Venus’s surface, interior and atmosphere with unprecedented accuracy, allowing us to understand how they work and interact with each other,” Anne Grete Straume-Lindner, the mission’s project scientist, explained on ESA's website.

Also read: Future of space travel: Get set for a holiday in zero gravity

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