NASA’s DAVINCI spacecraft plunges into Venus’ hellish atmosphere

Da Vinci depth probe on Venus

NASA’s DAVINCI mission will study the origin, evolution and current state of Venus in unprecedented detail from near the cloud top to the planet’s surface. The goal of the mission is to help answer longstanding questions about our planet neighbor, specifically whether Venus is as wet and as habitable as Earth. Photo credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Last year, NASA was selected The DAVINCIS MISSION as part of their Discovery program. It examines origin, development and condition[{“ attribute=““>Venus in unparalleled detail from near the top of the clouds to the planet’s surface. Venus, the hottest planet in the solar system, has a thick, toxic atmosphere filled with carbon dioxide and an incredible pressure of pressure is 1,350 psi (93 bar) at the surface.

Named after visionary Renaissance artist and scientist Leonardo da Vinci, the DAVINCI mission Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging will be the first probe to enter the Venus atmosphere since
NASA has selected the DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Investigation of Noble Gases, Chemistry, and Imaging+) mission as part of its discovery program, and it will be the first probe to penetrate the atmosphere of Venus since NASA’s Venus astronauts in the Year 1978 and the USSR Vega in 1985 Name the mission of DAVINCI+ for Renaissance artist and scholar Leonardo da Vinci to bring 21st century technologies to the next world. DAVINCI+ could reveal whether Earth’s sister planet looks very similar to Earth’s twin in a distant past and may be hospitable with oceans and continents. Photo credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

The mission’s Carrier, Relay, and Imaging (CRIS) spacecraft will carry two instruments that will study the planet’s clouds and map highland regions as it flyby Venus, and it will also deploy a small five-instrument lander, the one A number of new ones will offer measurements with extremely high accuracy during the descent to the surface of infernal Venus.

“This set of chemical, environmental and lineage data will paint a picture of Venus’ atmospheric layers and how they interact with the surface in the Alpha Reggio Mountains, twice the size of Texas,” said lead author Jim Garvin. From the research report in the Journal of Planetary Science and the DAVINCI Principal Investigator from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “These measurements will allow us to assess historical aspects of the atmosphere and to identify specific surface rock types such as granite, while also looking for landscape features that may provide information about erosion or other shaping processes.”

DAVINCI probe near the surface of Venus

DAVINCI will send a one meter diameter probe to withstand the high temperatures and pressures near Venus’ surface to explore the atmosphere from above the clouds to near the surface of what may have been a former continent. During the final kilometers of freefall (artist’s rendering here), the spacecraft will capture stunning images and chemical measurements of Venus’ deepest atmosphere for the first time. Credit: NASA/GSFC/CI Labs

DAVINCI will use three types of Venusian gravity aids that deliver fuel by using the planet’s gravity to change the speed and/or direction of the CRIS flight system. The first two gravitational assistants will help prepare CRIS for a flyby of Venus to perform ultraviolet and near-infrared remote sensing and acquire more than 60 gigabytes of new data on the atmosphere and surface. The third Venus gravitational assist will create the probe launch spacecraft for entry, descent, flag and landing, and a subsequent transition to Earth.

Venus’ first flyby will occur six and a half months after launch, and it will take two years before the probe is positioned to re-enter the atmosphere over Alpha Regio at “noon,” under perfect illumination, with the goal of capturing the to measure Venusian landscape at scales from 328 feet (100 meters) to finer than one meter. These gauges allow lander-style geological studies in the Venus Mountains without the need for a landing.

The Da Vinci Deep Atmosphere Probe descends through Venus' dense carbon dioxide atmosphere

The DAVINCI Deep Atmosphere Probe descends through Venus’ dense carbon dioxide atmosphere towards the Alpha Regio Mountains. Photo credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Once CRIS is about two days from Venus, the probe’s flight system will launch, along with the three-foot (one meter) long Titan probe safely contained within. The probe will begin interacting with Venus’ upper atmosphere 75 miles (120 kilometers) above the surface. The science probe will begin scientific observations after the heat shield is removed about 42 miles (67 kilometers) above the surface. With the heat shield removed, the probe’s inlets would receive samples of atmospheric gas for detailed chemical measurements of the kind being made[{“ attribute=““>Mars with the Curiosity rover. During its hour-long descent to the surface, the probe will also acquire hundreds of images as soon as it emerges under the clouds at around 100,000 feet (30,500 meters) above the local surface.

“The probe will touch-down in the Alpha Regio mountains but is not required to operate once it lands, as all of the required science data will be taken before reaching the surface.” said Stephanie Getty, deputy principal investigator from Goddard. “If we survive the touchdown at about 25 miles per hour (12 meters/second), we could have up to 17-18 minutes of operations on the surface under ideal conditions.”

DAVINCI is tentatively scheduled to launch June 2029 and enter the Venusian atmosphere in June 2031.

“No previous mission within the Venus atmosphere has measured the chemistry or environments at the detail that DAVINCI’s probe can do,” said Garvin. “Furthermore, no previous Venus mission has descended over the tesserae highlands of Venus, and none have conducted descent imaging of the Venus surface. DAVINCI will build on what Huygens probe did at Titan and improve on what previous in situ Venus missions have done, but with 21st century capabilities and sensors.”

Reference: “Revealing the Mysteries of Venus: The DAVINCI Mission” by James B. Garvin, Stephanie A. Getty, Giada N. Arney, Natasha M. Johnson, Erika Kohler, Kenneth O. Schwer, Michael Sekerak, Arlin Bartels, Richard S. Saylor, Vincent E. Elliott, 24 May 2022, The Planetary Science Journal.
DOI: 10.3847/PSJ/ac63c2

NASA Goddard is the principal investigator institution for DAVINCI and will perform project management for the mission, provide science instruments as well as project systems engineering to develop the probe flight system. Goddard also leads the project science support team with an external science team from across the US. Discovery Program class missions like DAVINCI complement NASA’s larger “flagship” planetary science explorations, with the goal of achieving outstanding results by launching more smaller missions using fewer resources and shorter development times. They are managed for NASA’s Planetary Science Division by the Planetary Missions Program Office at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Major partners for DAVINCI are Lockheed Martin, Denver, Colorado, The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, California, NASA’s Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia, NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Federal Airfield in California’s Silicon Valley, and KinetX, Inc., Tempe, Arizona, as well as the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

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