A Venus mission estimated to cost $610 million has been approved by the European Space Agency, coming on the heels of NASA's two Venus missions announced earlier this month.
The ESA's EnVision orbiter will launch in 2031 or 2032, UPI reported Thursday.
"A new era in the exploration of our closest, yet wildly different, solar system neighbor awaits us," Günther Hasinger, ESA Director of Science, said in a statement. "Together with the newly announced NASA-led Venus missions, we will have an extremely comprehensive science program at this enigmatic planet well into the next decade."
NASA's DAVINCI+ and VERITAS missions were unveiled June 2, and are budgeted for $500 million apiece to launch from 2028-30.
"EnVision benefits from collaboration with NASA, combining excellence in European and American expertise in Venus science and technology, to create this ambitious mission," Hasinger said.
"EnVision further strengthens Europe's role in the scientific exploration of the solar system. Our growing mission fleet will give us, and future generations, the best insights ever into how our planetary neighborhood works, particularly relevant in an era where we are discovering more and more unique exoplanet systems."
The Venus exploration might be useful in studying Earth's climate change, according to Hasinger, who added that Venus might have undergone similar changes — presumably without extraterrestrial-life impacts.
"Venus has been kind of ignored for a long time," he said at a news conference, UPI reported. "So I believe we will get similar details of Venus as we have today for Mars, once these missions are concluded."
The ESA release outlined the key questions sought to be answered:
"A key question in planetary science is why, despite being roughly the same size and composition, our next-door neighbor in the inner Solar System experienced such a dramatic climate change: instead of being a habitable world like Earth, it has a toxic atmosphere and is enshrouded with thick sulphuric acid-rich clouds. What history did Venus experience to arrive at this state and does this foretell Earth's fate should it, too, undergo a catastrophic greenhouse effect? Is Venus still geologically active? Could it have once hosted an ocean and even sustained life? What lessons can be learned about the evolution of terrestrial planets in general, as we discover more Earth-like exoplanets?"
VERITAS will map the surface of Venus, while EnVision will target mountainous regions, and DAVINCI+ will penetrate the atmosphere to the surface of the hot planet in an hour mission, taking samples of the air with sensors, according to the ESA.
"It's actually the same team that's working on EnVision and VERITAS, so this would be complementary science," Adriana Ocampo, NASA's program scientist for the EnVision mission, told UPI. "This will serve to maximize science to address these crucial questions about Venus and why it evolved so differently than Earth."
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