Nasa announced last Thursday (13) the four finalists for another round of selection of missions of the Discovery class, the cheapest of the categories adopted by the American space agency for interplanetary probes. And this time I think Venus enthusiasts will be more lucky.
Of the four projects, two of them want to visit the second world from the Sun, a planet that, with its dense atmosphere and overwhelming greenhouse effect, is kind of like the “evil twin” of Earth.
One of them, Davinci + (of course there is an acronym there, which has nothing to do with the Italian Renaissance), involves an orbiter and an atmospheric probe, in order to study the Venusian air. The other, Veritas (another acronym), is an orbiter equipped with a powerful radar to investigate the Venusian surface and its geological structures.
It is the second time that both have reached the final stage of the selection process; in the last round, in 2017, the two ended up being neglected by missions aimed at asteroids (Lucy and Psyche, which are expected to fly in 2021 and 2022). This time, at least one of them must be chosen. Especially because the other two finalists involve a lot of daring and extremely long flights, even moons far from the outer Solar System.
The IVO is an orbital mission to Jupiter, with the objective of carrying out a series of overflights of Io, the innermost of the four great Jovian moons. The idea is to monitor the volcanic activity of the star (the most geologically active body in the Solar System).
The other proposed mission, Trident, would go even further, to Triton, Neptune's largest moon. To get there more quickly, the mission would perform a single overflight, reprising what New Horizons did for Pluto, before getting lost in the outer reaches of space.
Visiting Triton would be interesting, especially to contrast the results with those of Pluto, since the Neptunian moon is probably a dwarf planet captured by Neptunian gravity. But it is a long journey, for such a limited mission …
My bet? IVO and one of the two venusian. The Io observer will make a great complement to the missions already scheduled for Jupiter, Europa Clipper and Juice, focused on the other three great moons (Europa, Ganymede and Calixto). The flight to Venus, on the other hand, would promise new results after a few months, on NASA's first Venusian mission since Magellan, which ended in 1994.
The pre-selection comes with a budget of US $ 3 million for each project, and the final choice will be made next year. Those selected will have to limit their cost to US $ 500 million, and departures should take place between 2025 and 2029.
This column is published on Mondays, in Folha Corrida.