The European Space Agency (ESA) is considering a mission to neighbouring planet Venus as one of three ambitious proposals currently on the table - but it will take almost 15 years to prepare, it it happens at all.
Venus is often considered as Earth's 'evil twin'. Despite being roughly the same size and neighbours in the inner Solar System, the two planets have evolved very differently: Venus is believed to have experienced a catastrophic runaway greenhouse effect and today is enshrouded with a thick, sulphurous, toxic atmosphere.
Called EnVision, the potential mission to Venus is one of three prospective ideas which have made it to final consideration in the ESA's fifth medium class mission in its Cosmic Vision science programme.
If it was chosen, it would have a planned launch date of 2032.
The other two finalists consist a space telescope that will hunt for bursts of energy from the early universe, and a space observatory that can peer through interstellar dust to watch stars being born.
The three were selected from 25 proposals put forward by the scientific community across Europe.
If the EnVision mission to Venus is realised, it would determine the nature and current state of geological activity on Venus and its relationship with the atmosphere, to better understand the different evolutionary pathways of the two planets.
It would also map the surface and obtain detailed radar images, improving on those obtained by NASA's Magellan in the 1990s to provide greater insight into the geological evolution of the surface.
"I am impressed about the quality and breadth of the missions proposed for M5. Each of the selected proposals has high scientific value, and would ensure a continuation of Europe's expertise in the fields of planetary science, astrophysics and cosmology," explained the ESA's director of science, Günther Hasinger.
A final decision for the fifth medium class is expected in 2021.
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