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Venus Flagship Mission Study
Venus Design Reference Mission

VDRM Mission Composite

The Venus Flagship Design Reference Mission (DRM) is optimized to achieve the highest number of high-priority science goals and objectives of Venus exploration, and it is comprised of a highly capable orbiter, two balloons in the clouds, and two landers on different terrains.

The orbiter would provide telecom relay support for the month-long balloon campaign and for the two five-hour landers (not including the 1 hour descent phase). Following the telecom support phase, the orbiter would aerobrake into a 230-km circular science-mapping orbit for a two-year mapping mission. Extremely high-resolution radar and altimetry mapping would explore the surface at resolutions up to two orders of magnitude greater than was achieved with Magellan, opening a new door to studies of comparative geology. While the balloons circumnavigate the planet up to seven times, they would continually sample gases and cloud aerosols and measure the solar and thermal radiation within the clouds. The landers would perform descent science, obtaining atmospheric measurements in complementary vertical slices and taking images of the surface on the way down. While on the surface, they would perform high-fidelity analyses of the elemental and mineralogical content of rocks and soils on and beneath the surface. Panoramic images of the landing sites at an order of magnitude higher resolution than achieved with previous landers would provide geologic context for the landing and sampling sites. The mission concept requires two Atlas V 551 launch vehicles in the 2020 - 2025 timeframe: one for the orbiter, the other for the in situ vehicles and carrier. The preliminary cost analysis for the DRM gives a range of $2.7 B to $3.8 B in $FY09.

Clearly, the technological challenges for in situ exploration of Venus are high. The STDT considered mission architectures and payloads whose components and instruments could be at Technical Readiness Level (TRL) 6 or higher by 2015. This ruled out a large number of scientifically promising approaches. Therefore, beyond the DRM, we considered the extra capabilities of a slightly enhanced mission that could be accommodated with the DRM architecture and entirely new capabilities for different architectures that would require a moderate, sustained technology program to achieve extraordinary science return from Venus.

The DRM accomplishes a very wide range of atmospheric, geologic, and geochemical investigations to illuminate how the atmosphere, clouds, surface, and interior interact over many timescales. It does this by using the synergy of simultaneous atmospheric and surface in situ exploration under a very capable mapping orbiter.