International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

EnVision Mission to Venus

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : EnVision Mission

Mains level : Interplanetary missions

Following NASA’s footsteps, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced that it has selected EnVision as its next orbiter that will visit Venus sometime in the 2030s.

Last week, NASA selected two missions to the planet Venus, Earth’s nearest neighbour. The missions called DAVINCI+ and VERITAS have been selected based on their potential for scientific value and the feasibility of their development plans.

What is EnVision?

  • EnVision is an ESA-led mission with contributions from NASA. It is likely to be launched sometime in the 2030s.
  • The earliest launch opportunity for EnVision is 2031, followed by 2032 and 2033.
  • Once launched on an Ariane 6 rocket, the spacecraft will take about 15 months to reach Venus and will take 16 more months to achieve orbit circularization.
  • The spacecraft will carry a range of instruments to study the planet’s atmosphere and surface, monitor trace gases in the atmosphere and analyses its surface composition.

What are other such missions?

  • EnVision will follow another ESA-led mission to Venus called ‘Venus Express’ (2005-2014) that focused on atmospheric research and pointed to volcanic hotspots on the planet’s surface.
  • Other than this, Japan’s Akatsuki spacecraft has also been studying the planet’s atmosphere since 2015.

Why are scientists interested in studying Venus?

  • At the core of the ESA’s mission is the question of how Earth and Venus evolved so differently from each other considering that they are roughly of the same size and composition.
  • Venus is the hottest planet in the solar system because of the heat that is trapped by its thick cloud cover.
  • Last year, a team of scientists reported that they had found phosphine gas (a chemical produced only through biological processes) in the atmosphere of Venus.
  • This triggered excitement in the scientific community that some life forms might be supported by the planet.
  • But the existence of life on the planet is nearly impossible given the high temperatures of Venus and its acidic atmosphere.

Back2Basics: Venus Planet

  • For those on Earth, Venus is the second-brightest object in the sky after the moon.
  • It appears bright because of its thick cloud cover that reflects and scatters light.
  • But while Venus, which is the second closest planet to the Sun, is called the Earth’s twin because of their similar sizes, the two planets have significant differences between them.
  • For one, the planet’s thick atmosphere traps heat and is the reason that it is the hottest planet in the solar system, despite coming after Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun.
  • Surface temperatures on Venus can go up to 471 degrees Celsius, which is hot enough to melt lead.
  • Further, Venus moves forward on its orbit around the Sun but spins backwards around its axis slowly.
  • This means on Venus the Sun rises in the west and sets in the East.
  • One day on Venus is equivalent to 243 Earth days because of its backward spinning, opposite to that of the Earth’s and most other planets.
  • Venus also does not have a moon and no rings.
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