NASA has spent $3.6 million to build 12 small satellites to explore the planet Venus in search of a mysterious substance that absorbs half the planet’s light.
The CubeSat UV Experiment (CUVE) mission will launch the satellites to investigate atmospheric processes on Venus. The 12 satellites vary in size. One is less than four inches across and weighs a few ounces. Another weighs 400 pounds.
“CUVE will use remote sensing instruments to study the distribution of energy in Earth’s sister planet Venus,” Dr. Valeria Cottini, a NASA scientist at the University of Maryland in College Park, told Astrowatch.net. “The mission is also designed to address the role of the cloud-top dynamics and chemistry in global energy balance. These results will constrain theories that describe the evolutionary processes of Venus.”
CUVE is a relatively new idea, coming out of a March conference in Texas between NASA an several universities. There is not yet a scheduled launch date for the satellites. NASA only recently begun funding the mission, but the probes will be one of the first projects to use miniaturized cube satellites for space research.
“These small but mighty satellites have the potential to enable transformational science,” Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said in a press statement. “They will provide valuable information to assist in planning future Announcements of Opportunity, and to guide NASA’s development of small spacecraft technologies for deep space science investigation.”
None of the probes will actually land on Venus, since the average surface temperature there is typically 864 degrees Fahrenheit. Most electronics can’t operate in that heat, and any probes landing on the planet must have thermal and pressure-resistant shells. But that technology is expensive and only lasts a few hours, limiting the amount of scientific work that can be done on the planet.
Venus may have supported some kind of life in a 2 billion year period before it became too inhospitable, according to a NASA co-authored study.
Researchers created computer simulations to show how Venus may have had ancient oceans that covered half the planet for most of its history. If that’s the case, Venus’s average surface temperature would have been around 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
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