NASA hasn’t been to Venus since the ’90s. Now it’s planning two trips to our smoking hot neighbor.

Earth’s long-neglected twin is finally going to get the attention astronomers say it deserves.
A composite image of the planet Venus.

These two projects will be the first missions to Venus since 1989. NASA/JPL-Caltech

After more than 30 years of basically ignoring Earth’s so-called twin planet, NASA is prepping to revisit Venus. Twice. The two new missions, DAVINCI+ and VERITAS, are expected to launch sometime between 2028 and 2030, and will each get about $500 million for development. 

Both missions were announced by NASA as the final selections for the 2019 Discovery competition, beating out two other candidates that proposed trips to the moons of Neptune and Jupiter. 

DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging Plus) will launch instruments into Venus’s atmosphere to measure its gaseous composition, which will clue scientists in to why and how the planet became the scorching hot world it is today. The mission will also look at “tesserae,” Venus’s continent-like geological features that are suggestive of plate tectonics. 

VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy) will use radar and spectroscopy to map Venus in incredible detail, which will allow scientists to produce 3-D reconstructions of its surface. The mission will also try to identify the rock types on the planet and detect whether there are any active volcanoes. 

[Related: Radio signals detected on Venus weren’t sent by aliens]

Venus has often been called Earth’s twin. The two planets share close orbits and they’re pretty similar in size and composition. But Earth has livable temperatures, water, and life. Venus, on the other hand, has an atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide and a surface temp of 900 degrees Fahrenheit. Some planetary scientists believe that Venus could have once held oceans of liquid water, and maybe even life. NASA hopes that DAVINCI+ and VERITAS will help illuminate Venus’s history while explaining how and why the planet managed to diverge so dramatically from Earth. 

“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 NASA’s Discovery Program scientist Tom Wagner in the same announcement. “It will be as if we have rediscovered the planet.”

The last time NASA launched a dedicated trip to Venus was in 1989, with the Magellan mission. Most of NASA’s recent missions have focused on Mars, and planetary scientists have been saying that Venus deserves more love and is worth further exploration. Scientists who study Venus were over the moon (so to speak) at the news of new Venus missions. 
It’s a “very clear statement from NASA to the Venus community to say, ‘We see you, we know you’ve been neglected, and we’re going to make that right,’” said Stephen Kane, an astronomer at the University of California at Riverside, in a statement to Technology Review. “It’s an incredible moment.”