Illustration of VERITAS spacecraft scanning Venus

An artist's concept showing the VERITAS spacecraft using its radar to produce high-resolution maps of the topographic and geologic features on Venus. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

What is VERITAS?

VERITAS – or Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy – will be the first NASA spacecraft to explore Earth’s sister planet Venus since the 1990s. The spacecraft will orbit Venus, gathering data to reveal how the paths of Venus and Earth diverged, and how Venus lost its potential to be a habitable world.

Nation United States of America (USA)
Objective Venus Orbiter
Spacecraft VERITAS
Spacecraft Mass TBD
Mission Design and Management NASA/JPL
Launch Vehicle TBD
Launch Date December 2027 (tentative)
Launch Site TBD
Scientific Instruments
  1. Venus Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (VISAR)

  2. Venus Emissivity Mapper (VEM)

  3. Gravity Science

Firsts

● VERITAS will help create the first global high-resolution topographic and radar images of Venus.

● The mission will help make the first maps of regions where geologic processes are actively deforming the surface of Venus.

● VERITAS will produce the first near-global map of surface rock composition.

● VERITAS will refine our estimates of Venus’ core size and composition.

Key Dates:

June 2, 2021: VERITAS selected as one of two new NASA missions to Venus

December 2027: Tentative launch date

July 2028: Tentative date to begin orbiting Venus

Venus Radar Image
This global view of the surface of Venus was created using data from NASA’s Magellan spacecraft with data gaps filled in with Pioneer Venus Orbiter data. The simulated hues are based on color images recorded by the Soviet Venera 13 and 14 spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL | Full caption and image

In Depth: VERITAS

VERITAS was selected on June 2, 2021, as one of two new NASA missions to Venus, Earth’s nearest planetary neighbor. VERITAS and DAVINCI will be NASA’s first missions to Venus since the 1990s. VERITAS is tentatively scheduled to launch in December 2027, and would begin orbiting Venus in July 2028 (DAVINCI’s launch is targeted for 2029).

Part of NASA’s Discovery Program, VERITAS – which means truth in Latin – will help scientists learn the facts about how Venus became a sulfurous inferno, while Earth evolved to become home to an abundance of life.

Of all known planets, moons, and newly discovered exoplanets, Venus is the most Earth-like in size, overall composition, and energy from our Sun. Venus is not currently habitable, but it orbits the Sun in the "Goldilocks Zone" – or habitable zone – the range of distance from a planet’s sun with the right temperatures for water to remain liquid.

Venus Volcanos
This artist’s concept illustrates a region of Venus that may have active volcanism and subduction, where the surface is sinking into the mantle. The foreground shows rocks low in iron that are similar to Earth’s granite-rich continents. VERITAS will help determine whether these conditions exist on Venus. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Peter Rubin

Some scientists think ancient Venus may have been habitable, long before the first life on Earth. If it was, what happened? What caused Venus to evolve into its present hellishly hot state – with a thick, toxic atmosphere, crushing air pressure, and surface temperatures hot enough to melt lead? And why is Venus devoid of the ocean, magnetic field, and plate tectonics that have enabled Earth to become so hospitable for life?

To find the answers, VERITAS will study the planet's surface and interior with a powerful new generation of scientific tools. It will create incredibly detailed radar maps of Venus' surface, vastly improving the maps made by NASA’s Magellan mission in the 1990s. From these data, scientists will make the first high-resolution topographic maps of Venus, and the first maps of regions where geologic processes are actively deforming the surface today.

VERITAS also will produce the first near-global map of rock type, iron mineralogy, and surface weathering. It will be the first mission to reveal the composition of Venus' surface rocks, which up to this point has remained a mystery.

“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.”

Science Goals

1. What processes shape rocky planet evolution?

2. What geological processes are currently active on Venus?

3. Is there evidence of past or present water on Venus?

Science Objectives

The VERITAS mission team will answer these questions:

  • What is the composition and origin of the different terrains on Venus, such as its mountains, volcanoes, valleys, highlands, domes, ridges, and impact craters?

  • What is the planet's geologic history?

  • What is volcanic activity like on Venus? Is it constant, or intermittent?

  • What are the major tectonic processes that shape Venus?

  • What is the size and state of the planet's core? How thick and sticky is the rest of the interior (the mantle)?

  • Is the surface being changed by active volcanoes?

  • Are the plateaus on Venus, known as "tesserae," like Earth’s continents?

  • Is water from the interior being released as a gas by volcanoes?

Sue Smrekar
VERITAS principal investigator Sue Smrekar in front of the post office in Venus, Pennsylvania, the town where her father was born. Credit: Sue Smrekar

Suzanne Smrekar of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is the principal investigator for VERITAS. JPL will provide project management. The German Aerospace Center will provide the mission’s infrared mapper. The Italian Space Agency and France’s Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales will contribute to the radar and other parts of the mission.

In addition to the two missions, NASA selected a pair of technology demonstrations to fly along with them. VERITAS will host the Deep Space Atomic Clock-2, built by JPL and funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. The ultra-precise clock signal generated with this technology will ultimately help enable autonomous spacecraft maneuvers and enhance radio science observations. (DAVINCI will host the Compact Ultraviolet to Visible Imaging Spectrometer (CUVIS) built by Goddard.)

Established in 1992, NASA’s Discovery Program has supported the development and implementation of over 20 missions and instruments. These selections are part of the ninth Discovery Program competition.

Key Sources

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