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Venus and gravity science missions win Esa approval

Image: ESA

European Space Agency science director says missions will keep continent’s researchers “at the forefront”

The European Space Agency has given the go-ahead for two new science missions: one to explore the planet Venus and another to study gravitational waves.

ESA science director Carole Mundell said: “These trailblazing missions will take us to the next level in two extraordinarily exciting areas of space science and keep European researchers at the forefront of these domains.”

Both the Envision Venus mission and the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (Lisa) mission are expected to be launched on Esa’s planned new Ariane 6 rocket launcher, which is expected to come into use this year having been in development for almost a decade.

‘More detail than ever before’

Envision is set to launch in 2031 as Europe’s second Venus exploration mission. It will study the planet “in more detail than ever before and in its entirety, from its inner core to its upper atmosphere”, after the predecessor Venus Express mission studied the planet’s surface in 2005-14.

Lisa should launch in 2035 and is intended to be the first space-based observatory of gravitational waves. Esa said: “These ripples…are emitted during some of the most powerful events in the universe, such as when black holes collide. By measuring [them], Lisa will probe the entire history of the universe, going back long before stars and galaxies formed.”

The Lisa observatory will consist of three spacecraft (pictured) that will fly 2.5 million km apart, following about 50m km behind Earth. It will build on Esa’s Lisa Pathfinder mission, which launched in 2015.

The next step will be to decide on a primary contractor for each mission later this year. Both missions will motivate collaborations among countries, companies and institutes, and could accelerate technology development, Esa said.