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DAVINCI (Discovery 15)



The DAVINCI (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging) (originally named DAVINCI+) mission will measure the composition of Venus’ atmosphere to understand how it formed and evolved, as well as determine whether the planet ever had an ocean.

The mission consists of a the Carrier, Relay, Imaging Spacecraft (CRIS) and the Descent Sphere (DS) that will plunge through the planet’s thick atmosphere, making precise measurements of noble gases and other elements to understand why Venus’ atmosphere is a runaway hothouse compared the Earth’s.

DAVINCI will also return the first high resolution pictures of the unique geological features on Venus known as “tesserae,” which may be comparable to Earth’s continents, suggesting that Venus has plate tectonics.

The CRIS spacecraft carries two science instruments:

  • Venus Imaging System for Observational Reconnaissance (VISOR): a suite of four cameras. It contains flight-proven components from the OSIRIS-Rex TAGCAMS navigation cameras. One camera will be sensitive to ultraviolet light to track cloud motions in the atmosphere. Additionally, a suite of three cameras sensitive to near-infrared light will be able to identify surface composition at regional scales by analyzing near-infrared heat emission from the surface when the spacecraft is over the night side of Venus. Since rock composition can be influenced by water, these images will give clues to how ancient oceans may have shaped the crust of Venus. The camera suite will provide the first compositional maps of Ishtar Terra, the high latitude “continent” on Venus with a range in height of up to 11 kilometers. Ishtar may be the last manifestation of a kind of plate tectonics on Venus that shut off when the oceans dissipated about one billion years ago.
  • Compact Ultraviolet to Visible Imaging Spectrometer (CUVIS): a technology demonstration build by NASA Goddard that features new freeform mirror technology and artificial intelligence / machine-learning capabilities to enable new UV hyperspectral and high-spectral-resolution spectroscopy. CUVIS will make high resolution measurements of ultraviolet light using a new instrument based on freeform optics. These observations will be used to determine the nature of the unknown ultraviolet absorber in Venus’ atmosphere that absorbs up to half the incoming solar energy.
  • The DS probe will contain five instruments. Two of them – the Venus Mass Spectrometer (VMS) and the Venus Tunable Laser Spectrometer (VTLS) – will undertake the first complete compositional study of the entire cross-section of Venus’ atmospheric gases, searching for clues as to how, when, and why Venus’ climate may have changed so dramatically. The third instrument, the Venus Atmospheric Structure Investigation (VASI), will measure the pressure, temperature, and winds from about 70 kilometers in altitude to the surface at 10 times higher resolution (or more) than any previous Venus probe. After the probe drops under the thick cloud layer, the Venus Descent Imager (VenDI) instrument will take hundreds of near-infrared images of the Alpha Regio highlands, which the team will use to make maps of topography and composition. These images will show landscapes unique to Venus at the high resolutions typical of landers (near the surface).

    The DS instruments are:

    • Venus Mass Spectrometer (VMS): leverages recent successful mass spectrometer designs, including the Mars Science Laboratory/Sample Analysis at Mars (MSL/SAM) quadrupole mass spectrometer (QMS).
    • Venus Tunable Laser Spectrometer (VTLS): draws flight heritage from the MSL/SAM’s Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS).
    • Venus Atmospheric Structure Investigation (VASI): design heritage from previous atmospheric entry probes for measuring pressure, temperature, and acceleration.
    • Venus Descent Imager (VenDI): heritage from MSL MastCam/MARDI and OSIRIS-Rex NavCams with large-pixel CCD detector for maximal signal-to-noise (S/N).
    • Venus Oxygen Fugacity Student Collaboration Experiment (VfOx): a solid-state Nernstian ceramic oxygen sensor with heritage from high-temperature industrial sensors.

    As selected, DAVINCI would nominally launch in 2029 June and after a ~6 month cruise, the spacecraft would fly by Venus for unique remote-sensing science that includes dayside UV cloud motion videos, hyperspectral UV imaging spectroscopy, and nightside NIR surface emissivity mapping. As currently planned, the trajectory returns 9 months later for a second flyby in 2030 November with additional dayside UV observations and nightside surface measurements of key highlands (e.g., tesserae and Maat Mons). The flight system returns to Venus 7 months later and delivers the in situ DS to Alpha Regio on 2031 June 21 with favorable solar illumination for descent high-sensitivity NIR imaging under the clouds. DAVINCI's targeted entry-descent-imaging site within Alpha Regio has been comprehensively investigated by prior missions and is large enough (nearly twice the size of Texas) such that a precisely controlled descent is not necessary. DAVINCI's touchdown ellipse comfortably fits within this area with large margin, and enables high-resolution descent images to map the local composition-related infrared (IR) emissivity and local topography of this unique region. Figure 8 highlights the DS imaging corridor and its landing error ellipse within Alpha Regio using the Arecibo radio-telescope-based pseudo-topography of this tessera region at subkilometer scales.

    Nation: USA
    Type / Application: Venus orbiter and lander
    Operator: NASA
    Contractors: Lockheed Martin (CRIS); ? (DS)
    Equipment: VISOR, CUVIS (CRIS); VMS, STLS, VASI, VenDIm, VfOx (DS)
    Power: Solar cells, batteries (CRIS); batteries (DS)
    Orbit: Heliocentric, later Venus orbit
    Satellite COSPAR Date LS Launch Vehicle Remarks
    DAVINCI CRIS (Discovery 15) - 2026 with DAVINCI DS
    DAVINCI DS (Discovery 15) - 2026 with DAVINCI CRIS

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