Venus, known as Earth's sister planet, is getting more attention for deeper exploration with many short- and medium-term plans on the anvil.
Venus is special because it is on the cusp of a habitable zone with an atmosphere. Despite the hotter climate, weird atmospheric pressure, and acid rains, there is an expectation that Venus might be harboring many secrets.
Challenges For Exploration
Exploration of Venus had been fraught with many challenges. The melting of the Soviet Venera landers is cited by many a case in point.
But advancements in materials and technologies have brightened the scope of new exploration methods. The success of orbital probes like the Pioneer 12 and Magellan, despite the dense atmosphere, instills promise of a wider exploration.
New electronic circuitry has offered more potency to withstand the heat of Venus, raising hopes of better exploration of the planet's surface.
Successful Venus Explorations
Among the probes that had detailed study of Venus' climate include ESO's Venus Express and Japan's Venus Climate Orbiter or Akatsuki.
They studied the interactions of the planet's surface with the atmosphere. While the exploration of Venus Express concluded in 2015, Akatsuki is still continuing the probe.
Meanwhile, a road map for Venus exploration was discussed at the workshop named Planetary Science Vision 2050. The matter was brainstormed by a team under the leadership of James Cutts from the Southwest Research Institute.
They addressed many pertinent questions relating to Venus, such as the planet's atmosphere, climate, the evolution, and formation. Among other issues of importance, the planet's interior and the possible presence of liquid water had more focus.
Cutts and team also discussed the challenges posed by Venus' conditions and outlined a program that can be implemented in three phases: short-, mid-, and long-term.
In the short term, priority goes to remote-sensing from orbital probes to gauge the planet's gravity and topography. Side by side, more information can be gleaned from radar and infrared imaging.
These action points can be backed up with a deep probe, a lander with a short span, and aerial platforms. Multi-pronged probes like dropsondes are also workable to measure temperature, winds, and humidity.
Generally, they are ejected into the atmosphere for a calibrated descent. Their terrestrial functions include understanding the intensity of hurricanes and weather conditions. Descending dropsondes are backed by parachutes of smaller size to garner data on temperature, wind, and humidity.
BepiColombo Flyby Of Venus
Some of the near-term missions also have Venus on agenda though the destinations are not Venus-exclusive. Flybys of BepiColombo, Solar Probe Plus, and the Solar Orbiter are on the cards when they are on the way to Mercury and the sun.
The launch of these missions will take place in 2018.
As a joint venture of the Japan's JAXA and ESA, BepiColombo will perform two flybys of Venus on its way to Mercury.
The BepiColombo mission has Mercury as the main target and is now undergoing final testing at the Netherlands technical center of ESA. It will be launched in October 2018 from Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
Tesserae Lander For Venus
For the long-term exploration, a lander is considered ideal to study the geophysical properties. A short-span tesserae lander and balloons are fitting candidates for the task.
The tesserae lander could land in the rugged terrain of Venus, known as tesserae, where water is believed to have existed once. It will study the presence of liquid water, if any.
All landers in Mars are powered by solar power. The dense atmosphere of Venus has been an inhibiting factor in the use of solar landers however, but using a sail-powered rover is seen as a possible workaround.