ESA announced on June 10 that Envision would be the agency’s next M-class or middle-class science mission. The orbiter will carry a series of spectrometers, sounders and a radar to study the interior, surface and atmosphere of the planet.
Solar Orbiter will be launched no earlier than 2031 on an Ariane 6 rocket. A baseline mission schedule included in a mission assessment study provided for a launch during a one-month window that would open at the end of May 2032 , arriving at Venus in August 2033. It would then use the planet’s atmosphere to airbrake in its final science orbit in early 2035 for a four-year science mission.
EnVision was one of two finalists for the “M5” mission opportunity, along with Transient High-Energy Sky and Early Universe Surveyor (THESUS), an astronomy mission designed to search for transient events, particularly gamma-ray bursts. the early universe. A third finalist, an infrared space observatory called SPICA which is said to have flown in cooperation with the Japanese space agency JAXA, was withdrawn from the exam in October 2020 due to cost concerns.
ESA did not disclose the estimated cost of EnVision, but as part of ESA’s Cosmic Vision science missions, Class M missions are expected to cost around 500 million euros ($ 610 million).
EnVision’s selection comes after NASA announced on June 2 that it had selected two missions to Venus as part of its Discovery program of low-cost planetary science missions. DAVINCI + will send a probe into the planet’s atmosphere to measure its composition and take images of a region of its surface. VERITAS is an orbiter that will map radar and infrared emissions from the planet’s surface.
Neither the selection of missions nor their timing have been coordinated, but NASA and ESA have adopted what is in effect a complementary Venus exploration program. “A new era in the exploration of our closest but very different solar system neighbor awaits us,” Günther Hasinger, ESA scientific director, said in a statement. “With the Venus missions recently announced by NASA, we will have an extremely comprehensive science program on this enigmatic planet over the next decade. “
“EnVision builds on the strengths of instrument development by our two agencies,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, said in the same release. “Combined with NASA’s Discovery missions to Venus, the scientific community will have a powerful and synergistic set of new data to understand how Venus formed and how the surface and atmosphere have changed over time. “
The United States and Europe contribute to each other’s missions. EnVision’s synthetic aperture radar, called VenSAR, is supplied by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Ironically, the Italian space agency ASI and the French space agency CNES are contributing a similar radar on NASA’s VERITAS spacecraft, while the German space agency DLR will provide the infrared mapper for VERITAS.
EnVision is the fifth M-class mission selected by ESA under the Cosmic Vision program. The first, Solar Orbiter, was launched in February 2020. Three others are under development: Euclid, a dark matter and dark energy mapping mission to be launched in 2022; Plato, an exoplanet search mission launched in 2026; and Ariel, an exoplanet characterization mission launched in 2029.