Preparing For A Flagship: Lessons Learned From The Venus Flagship Mission Planetary Decadal Survey Study

Wednesday, 9 December 2020: 04:08
Patricia M Beauchamp, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, United States, Martha S Gilmore, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT, United States and Venus Flagship Mission Study Team
The Venus Flagship Mission (VFM) concept study was completed over 2019-2020 to support the upcoming Planetary and Astrobiology Decadal Survey. The focus of the VFM is habitability, to study Venus to address two critical questions for planetary science: 1) How, if at all, did Venus evolve through a habitable phase? 2) What circumstances affect how volatiles shape habitable Earth-sized planets throughout the galaxy? The proposed VFM mission architecture relies on five collaborative platforms: an Orbiter, Lander, variable-altitude Aerobot and two Small Satellites (SmallSats) delivered via single launch on a Falcon 9 heavy expendable that would provide simultaneous, synergistic measurements of the solid body, surface, atmosphere and space environment on the most accessible Earth-size planet in our galaxy, and gain a profound new understanding of the evolution of our solar system and habitable worlds.

We have recognized several areas of inquiry that would allow the community to prepare for scientific results from future mission and ensure instruments and technologies are developed that can achieve the VFM goals and objectives and reduce cost. Laboratory analyses under Venus conditions are essential, including the study of the composition and weathering of Venus relevant materials, their electrical properties and their detection with Venus sensors (e.g., NIR, SAR). Laboratory work to study the chemical and physical properties of Venus’ deep atmosphere and cloud conditions is required to investigate candidate UV absorbing species (both abiotic and biogenic), and any potential nutrient sources in this environment. The program should also include resources for improving atmospheric dynamics models as inputs into GCMs and to better predict aerobot trajectories. Future Venus missions will also benefit from detailed geologic mapping investigations, particularly of tessera terrain which is a primary target for this mission. Magellan and Arecibo can be used today to identify landing sites of highest scientific value (e.g., within the varied tesserae), accessibility (e.g., assessments of mantling deposits) and safety (surface roughness and slopes). Investments in these areas will greatly enhance science return from all Venus missions to come.