NASA is all over the solar system. From the orbiters and rovers on Mars, Dawn orbiting Ceres, Cassini exploring Saturn and its moons and New Horizons soaring past Pluto – NASA is busy.
Where to next? Maybe Venus. Yesterday, NASA selected five science investigations for further development during the next year. Of these five possible missions, up to two will be selected for flight opportunities as early as 2020.
“The selected investigations have the potential to reveal much about the formation of our solar system and its dynamic processes,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Dynamic and exciting missions like these hold promise to unravel the mysteries of our solar system and inspire future generations of explorers. It’s an incredible time for science, and NASA is leading the way.”
And the chances one of these missions will head to Venus is high. Two of the five missions would center around Venus.
The awesomely named Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging (DAVINCI) would study the chemical makeup of Venus’ atmosphere during a 63-minute descent. DAVINCI would answer one of the biggest questions surrounding Venus. Are volcanoes active today on Venus’ surface? It would also look at how the surface interacts with the atmosphere.
The Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy mission (VERITAS) would create global, high-res topography and imaging maps of Venus’ surface. These would be the first maps of deformation and global surface composition.
Those are the two possible Venus missions. The other three center around asteroids.
The Psyche mission could explain the origin of planetary cores by studying the metallic asteroid Psyche. Scientists believe this asteroid survived a violent collision with another object that stripped its outer, rocky layers.
The Near-Earth Object Camera (NEOCam) keeps things closer to home. It would discover ten times more near-Earth objects than have been discovered so far and would begin the process of characterizing them.
The Lucy mission would explore the Jupiter Trojan asteroids. These asteroids share the same orbit as Jupiter around the sun but are situated in front of and behind Jupiter.
Up to two missions will be selected in September 2016
The five potential missions will receive $3 million to look at potential designs and further analysis. Next September, NASA will pick their one or two for development leading up to launch. Any selected mission is expected to cost $500 million. And that doesn’t even include the launch vehicle or post-launch operations.
All of the missions sound cool, but I want NASA to go to Venus. Pluto is blowing our minds right now thanks to New Horizons. What secrets could DAVINCI or VERITAS shed light on?