NASA Resurrects VERITAS Mission to Venus

NASA Resurrects VERITAS Mission to Venus

A long overdue mission to Venus is finally back on track after being put on hold due to budgeting and staffing issues at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

VERITAS, Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy, made its way back onto NASA’s budget and is on schedule to launch in 2031, according to mission team members. The mission was originally slated for launch in 2027, but NASA’s plan to send a spacecraft to Venus was derailed when the space agency cut funds to VERITAS in its budget request for 2024.

This week, the release of NASA’s final budget saw an unexpected return of VERITAS, granting the mission adequate funds to be able to set a launch date. “The nightmare is over,” Darby Dyar, the deputy principal investigator of the VERITAS mission, told Gizmodo in an email. “To hear…that we have a launch date and a real budget is, honestly, hard to believe. I walked around last night asking people to pinch me to make sure I wasn’t dreaming!”

NASA’s prior mission to Venus, called Magellan, arrived at the planet in 1989 and concluded science operations in 1994. Since then, NASA hasn’t sent out a spacecraft to Earth’s neighboring planet, much to the disappointment of the highly dedicated Venus Stans. In 2021, NASA selected not one but two missions to the scorching hot planet, one of which is VERITAS.

The Venus dream was crushed shortly afterwards when an independent review board uncovered major institutional problems at JPL. The board was put together to examine the delay of the Psyche mission to a metal-rich asteroid, which missed its original launch window in August 2022, but instead uncovered a host of issues that went far beyond that one mission. As a result, NASA decided to put VERITAS on hold.

NASA’s budget request for 2024 requested $1.5 million for VERITAS, a major downgrade from the projected 2024 budget of the mission that was estimated at $124 million. The move was deemed as a soft cancellation of the Venus mission.

“It’s been so tough to keep our spirits up!” Dyar said. “But in the meantime, the team kept moving forward on a shoestring budget, planning, working to support our foreign partners, even mounting a field campaign in Iceland last summer.”

NASA had promised the VERITAS team that it would inform them by March whether the mission was to be canceled, and sure enough, NASA kept its promise. The space agency has been dealing with a host of budgeting issues, receiving $24.875 billion for its budget this year, about half a billion less than what the space agency received in 2023 and some $2.31 billion short of what it was hoping to spend on its various programs in 2024.

Despite a tighter budget, NASA kept the Venus dream alive. The mission’s potential cancellation saw the scientific community rallying to save VERITAS. The VERITAS orbiter is designed to create a global map of Venus, producing high-resolution radar maps of its surface, and would be the first mission to map the rocky composition of the planet.

The return of VERITAS is welcomed news from NASA, one that will surely delight the Venus hive.

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