From 1962 to today dozens of missions of various nationalities have reached the planet Venus, our twin (it is slightly smaller than the Earth) neighbor (it is the planet closest to ours with an average distance of only 41 million km). But only the Soviet probes Venera and three mini probes launched by the orbiter of the American probe Pioneer Venus have reached the planet’s surface and now we think of a spectacular return with the probes Venera-D and Venera-V.
The spectacular VeGa mission
In 1985, a collaboration between the newly formed ESA, the European Space Agency, and the USSR gave life to a double, ambitious mission called VeGa from the acronym of Venera and Gallei, transliteration from the Cyrillic alphabet of the name of Halley’s comet.
With an unprecedented and spectacular maneuver, the two orbiters VeGa-1 and VeGa-2, after having released their respective Landers, launched in pursuit of Halley’s Comet which they reached in 1986.
During the descent of the landing modules, two sounding balloons were released which flew for days in the Venusian atmosphere, covering respectively more than 11,000 km in the upper layers of the atmosphere.
From the experience of VeGa, the missions of the future
The first Russian mission, after the fall of the Soviet Union, which will mark the return to Venus, will be Venera-D, where D stands for Dolgosgjivushaja which means “long duration”. Everything that has been successfully tested in the VeGa missions will be implemented in this one. Venera-D aims, as the name suggests, to carry out experiments on the Venusian surface for almost two hours, a very long time for the infernal conditions of the planet.
I recently interviewed Dmitri Gorinov, a scientist at the Russian Academy of Sciences (IKI-RAS). From this interview emerged the details that will characterize the mission whose launch is expected in 2029 from the Vostochnij Cosmodrome. From the experience of VeGa, the weather balloon will be implemented and improved, which will have to fly for a longer time in the Venusian upper atmosphere and the soil around the Lander will be probed using mini drills which will also bring soil samples inside the landing module for a quick analysis.
Venera-V, the Venusian sample return
If Venera-D represents an evolution of the lucky and audacious Euro-Soviet VeGa probes, Venera-V will be something new, equally ambitious even if solidly based on the experience acquired with previous missions.
Launched around 2030, a vehicle will descend directly by penetrating the ground and extracting a sample of material from the Venusian soil. This sample will be placed in a container that will be released into the atmosphere using a balloon probe, very similar to those already seen in the VeGa probes and the Venera-D.
But the real novelty will be the launch of a vector, at an altitude of about 56 km, carrying the samples collected on the surface. Once the Venusian gravitational attraction has been overcome, the samples will be placed on a return trajectory toward the Earth.
Historical notes: the epic story of the water heaters
On Mar 3, 1966, the Soviet probe Venera-3 was the first object built by Humanity to touch the ground of another planet. But it was an armored probe like a water heater, Venera-7, which on Dec 15, 1970, managed to land on the Venusian soil by transmitting data on the temperature (455°C) and atmospheric pressure on the ground (95 Bar).
Since then, other water heaters with the red star have landed on the ground of the morning and evening star, until 1981 when the last two Soviet probes, Venera-13 and 14 sent spectacular color images of the ground also recording seismic activity and even the sound of thunder.