London, March 19 (ANI): A NASA advisory team has said that the agency is planning to send a future fleet of spacecraft to Venus between 2020 and 2025, which would include two high-altitude balloons built to hover in the sulphuric acid clouds over the planet.
According to a report in New Scientist, the multi-billion-dollar mission concept, which is being considered for launch in the next fifteen years, could help reveal more about Venus's runaway greenhouse effect, any oceans it may once have had, and possible ongoing volcanic activity.
It could be the next flagship mission sent to a planet, after a planned mission to Jupiter and its moons set for launch in 2020.
The Venus mission would cost some 3 billion to 4 billion dollars and would launch between 2020 and 2025, according to NASA, which in 2008 tasked a group of scientists and engineers to formulate goals for the mission.
The team's study outlines a plan to study the hazy planet, which has more in common with Earth than any other in terms of distance from the Sun, size and mass, but evolved into an inhospitable world where surface temperatures hover close to 450 degrees Celsius and sulphuric acid rains from the sky.
The team's mission concept includes one orbiter, two balloons and two short-lived landers, all of which would launch into space on two Atlas V rockets.
"Our understanding of Venus is so low, we really need this armada," said planetary scientist Mark Bullock of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, one of the team leaders.
As an ensemble, the spacecraft could help reveal what happened to Venus's oceans.
Researchers believe water was once plentiful enough to have been able to cover the entire planet in a layer 100 meters deep.
But Venus's hothouse climate eventually dried up most of this water, a process that might have also slowed and eventually stopped plate tectonics on the planet.
The landers, which would only last a few hours in the intense heat, could look for evidence of minerals formed by water.
Since such hydrated minerals have a limited lifetime, they could help reveal how long Venus's oceans might have lasted, a question that could shed light on whether life might have arisen on the planet.
The mission's two balloons would each carry a gondola full of scientific instruments to sniff the atmosphere at an altitude of 55 kilometers.
The mission could also help reveal more about the origin of Venus's current carbon dioxide atmosphere, which produces crushing surface pressures 90 times those on Earth.(ANI)