Soon the great mysteries of Venus will be revealed. Thales Alenia Space, the joint company between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%), will in fact continue the study phase B1 for the Venus orbiter, a choice that arrived following the recent selection by the Scientific Program Committee of the ‘Envision European Space Agency as the fifth middle-class mission in the Agency’s Cosmic Vision plan. The orbiter, the joint venture explains, is dedicated to providing a holistic view of the planet from its inner core to the upper atmosphere to determine how and why Venus and Earth evolved so differently. Envision will complete two other Venus missions announced by NASA as part of its Discovery program to explore the Solar System: the Davinci + descent probe and the Veritas orbiter, scheduled for launch towards the end of the decade. ESA’s EnVision mission aims to provide a comprehensive view of the planet, from its inner core to its atmosphere, to help explain why Venus and Earth have taken such divergent paths in their evolution. Thales Alenia Space, one of the two prime contractors in this phase of the study will work together with Ohb as the main partner for the design of the spacecraft that will orbit Venus. Mission costs, development and technical feasibility have recently been completed and this new phase, which will kick off in July for a period of 30 months, will consolidate mission and spacecraft design and start its execution. The orbiter will have five instruments on board made in member states of ESA and NASA to understand how the surface and atmosphere of Venus evolved over millions and whether the planet is still active today. These European instruments include a sounder to explore underground layers and three spectrometers to study the atmosphere and analyze the surface. A NASA synthetic aperture radar will acquire images and help map the surface. The radio-science experiment will instead determine the gravitational field of the planet with greater precision. These tools will work together to define the planet’s characteristics comprehensively, thus offering an overall view of Venus and its associated processes. “We are very proud to be aboard this innovative and exciting ESA mission that will help us to penetrate the mysteries of Venus’s geological and climatic evolution,” commented Bertrand Denis, Vice President of Observation and Science at Thales Alenia Space in France. “This mission also clearly indicates the key role of Europe and Thales Alenia Space in carrying out scientific investigations into our solar system,” he added. Venus is the closest planet to Earth and their characteristics are similar in size, gravity field and overall composition and is located on the edge of the habitable zone of the Solar System. When they formed, these two planets were undoubtedly similar but, while the Earth offers a very temperate climate, the surface temperature on Venus now exceeds 460ºC and its atmosphere, devoid of water, is composed mainly of carbon dioxide (96 %), which provides an atmospheric pressure on the surface of 92 bar, almost a hundred times denser than that on Earth. Scientists point out that the high abundance of corrosive sulfur gases indicates a high level of volcanic activity. The absence of plate tectonics and an internal magnetic field makes Venus noticeably different from our planet. And one of the most intriguing questions in planetary science is why our neighbor evolved so differently and underwent such spectacular climate change and whether the planet is still active today.
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