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China's proposed Venus mission would investigate the planet's atmosphere and geology

venus surface
Composite image of Venus (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

More details are emerging about China's potential mission to Venus as part of the country's expanding space exploration program.

The proposed mission, called the Venus Volcano Imaging and Climate Explorer (VOICE), would launch in 2026 and arrive in orbit around the hottest and brightest planet in the solar system in 2027, according to details from a July 9 meeting to discuss the mission.

The spacecraft would use a circular polar orbit with an altitude of 220 miles (350 kilometers) to investigate Venus' geological evolution, the thermal and chemical processes in the planet's atmosphere, the surface-atmosphere interactions, and the potential for a habitable environment and life in the Venusian clouds.

Related: Missing microbial poop in Venus' clouds suggests the planet has no life

Science instruments would include an S-band polarimetric synthetic aperture radar, which could peer through the Venusian clouds and map the surface, and a multispectral imager that could observe Venus in the ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared wavelengths.

VOICE is a candidate mission for a space science program somewhat separate from China's main lunar and planetary exploration missions led by the China National Space Administration (CNSA), which include the ongoing Tianwen 1 Mars mission and the planned Tianwen 2 near-Earth asteroid and Mars sample-return missions.

The proposed mission is instead being assessed as one of 13 candidate missions under the third Strategic Priority Program (SPP) on Space Science led by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The VOICE mission appears to be competing with three others in the category of planetary and Earth science: the E-type Asteroid Sample Return mission to collect samples from the asteroid 1989 ML and deliver them to Earth, the low Earth orbit Climate and Atmospheric Components Exploring Satellites mission, and the Ocean Surface Current multiscale Observation Mission. 

It is not clear how many missions will be approved, but the candidates will be evaluated in the near future based on the available budget, technology readiness and manufacturing schedule.

Other proposals are in the fields of astronomy and astrophysics, exoplanets (the Closeby Habitable Exoplanet Survey and Earth 2.0 telescopes) and heliophysics. 

The first round of China's SPP missions saw the launch of four spacecraft, including a dark matter-hunting probe and a quantum science satellite. Second SPP round missions will include the Einstein Probe, which will launch in 2023 to investigate extreme physics, and the Solar wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer, a collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) to explore interactions between the sun and Earth.

The third round of missions would likely launch between 2026 and the end of the decade.

If selected, VOICE would join a pair of NASA missions to Venus (VERITAS and DAVINCI+), and ESA's EnVision spacecraft as part of a wave of renewed interest in Venus.

In addition, California-based Rocket Lab aims to launch a private Venus mission in 2023, and India plans to send the Shukrayaan orbiter to space a year later. Russia has also announced plans for a mission named Venera-D, scheduled to launch in 2029. Potential NASA involvement in the mission was ended by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

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Andrew Jones
Andrew Jones

Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for Space.com in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI (opens in new tab).