Europe will join the space party at Planet Venus - BBC News
Jun 10, 2021 2 mins, 19 secs

You wait ages for a mission to Venus and then three come along at once.

The European Space Agency has just selected a probe called Envision to go study the second planet from the Sun.

"All three of the missions are highly complementary," Dr Philippa Mason, an Envision science team-member from Imperial College London, UK, told BBC News.

And if that's the case we want to know why Venus didn't turn out like Earth.

Or, perhaps, the even better question is: why didn't Earth develop like Venus.

Whereas the more similar of the two US missions, Veritas, will make global maps, looking for volcanic and other geological activity, the European probe will concentrate on regions that encompass a relatively small portion of the planet.

They're high and deformed - and, possibly, represent among the oldest terrains on the planet.

"But if those 'continents' actually have a very different composition - if they're granitic in nature - that would mean that at some stage in the past there's been water in the mantle of Venus because you make granite from wet magma.

The new wave of Venus missions will go some way to establishing whether, and to what extent, this engine has operated at Venus through history.

The principal sensor will be a synthetic aperture radar that will pierce the thick clouds on the planet to map surface features down to a resolution of 10m per pixel.

By going for repeat imaging of restricted regions of the planet, the hope is new lava flows can be detected and measured.

The selection of Envision came during a meeting of Esa's Science Programme Committee.

Some of the member state delegations in the meeting wanted re-assurance that the science on Envision was sufficiently "synergistic" with the Americans' efforts - that it was properly complementary and not simply a copy-cat exercise.

Envision team-members say these synergies were outlined in their proposal and that the close community that exists among Venus researchers in Europe and the US means that all three missions will work "hand in glove".

Some further feasibility work is required before the agency formally "adopts" the mission, but barring the emergence of some unforeseen technical obstacles or a large, unexpected rise in costs, Envision is now assumed to be "Go!".

For Envision, this means principally sensor contributions coming from Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and Spain.

Interest in Venus spiked recently with the revelation from a group of astronomers that telescopic observations had spied phosphine in the clouds of Venus.

This chemical has a potential biological origin, prompting speculation that there could be microbial life at more benign altitudes on the planet?

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