NASA picks Marshall for Venus studies

Venus hides a wealth of information that could help us better understand Earth and exoplanets. NASA’s JPL is designing mission concepts to survive the planet’s extreme temperatures and atmospheric pressure. This image is a composite of data from NASA’s Magellan spacecraft and Pioneer Venus Orbiter. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA has selected two missions to Venus and work on the $500 million projects will be handled at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

Lockheed Martin, which has major operations in Huntsville, has been selected to design, build and operate the spacecraft for the missions, but will be reporting to other NASA facilities on the jobs.

The Venus probes are designed to discover why Venus, once thought to be the most similar planet to Earth and our nearest planetary neighbor, evolved to be inhospitable to life.

“We’re very grateful for this opportunity to work with NASA and the missions’ principal investigators to fully understand how rocky planets evolved and what it means for our planet, Earth,” said Lisa Callahan, vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin’s Commercial Civil Space business. “Our team who designed these two spacecraft to study Venus in unprecedented detail — and yield answers to its greatest mysteries — is beyond excited!”

Explaining why Venus matters, Lockheed says: “As Earth’s own climate and geology evolve, interest in returning to Venus has surged because the planet currently suffers from a runaway greenhouse gas effect. Over millennia, water that may have once existed on Venus’ surface evaporated and carbon dioxide built up in the atmosphere — leading to a present-day surface temperature that’s hot enough to melt lead. Previous missions to Venus have even provided tantalizing clues that the planet may have once harbored a liquid ocean.”

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Both missions are expected to launch between 2028 and 2030.

“We’re revving up our planetary science program with intense exploration of a world that NASA hasn’t visited in over 30 years,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science. “Using cutting-edge technologies that NASA has developed and refined over many years of missions and technology programs, we’re ushering in a new decade of Venus to understand how an Earth-like planet can become a hothouse. Our goals are profound. It is not just understanding the evolution of planets and habitability in our own solar system, but extending beyond these boundaries to exoplanets, an exciting and emerging area of research for NASA.”

“It is astounding how little we know about Venus, but the combined results of these missions will tell us about the planet from the clouds in its sky through the volcanoes on its surface all the way down to its very core,” said Tom Wagner, NASA’s Discovery Program scientist. “It will be as if we have rediscovered the planet.”

Marshall Space Flight Center

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