Russia has begun preliminary work on a Venera-D automatic interplanetary station, which is set to become a part of Moscow's first mission to Venus since Soviet times.
Lev Zelyony, Deputy Chairman of the Council on Space Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) and Director of the Space Research Institute, said that Russia had begun designing the Venera-D spacecraft, which will explore the second planet from the Sun and the Earth's distant neighbor.
"We are embarking on design engineering," TASS quoted Zelyony as saying on Thursday. "An important meeting between RAS and Roscosmos management took place; we made a number of decisions, in particular, on the Venus program."
Russian space agency Roscosmos developed a joint Venus exploration program along with the Russian Academy of Sciences, which involves at least three separate missions, with the launch of the Venera-D automatic interplanetary station being the first stage of the planetary exploration. The "D" in Venera-D stands for the Russian word dolgozhivuschaya, meaning "long-lived".
The Venera-D orbital station will study the planet’s surface, atmosphere, internal structure and surrounding plasma. The Venus program aims to deliver the planet’s atmospheric samples, aerosols and soil to Earth. It will take place after landing, exploration of the landing area and examination of soil specimen. The project contractors are supposed to be Lavochkin NPO and the Space Research Institute.
Speaking to the TASS news agency, the RAS scientist expressed Russia's hopes that its first spacecraft will fly to Venus as early as 2029, a milestone that would usher in a new era of Russian exploration of the planet, while the exact scope of the Russian Venus exploration program would be determined by the newly initiated two-year-long design of the Venera-D spacecraft.
Russia-led Venera-D mission - initially planned as a Russian-US joint space exploration project - may now be a unilateral mission as Russian space agency Roscosmos recently announced its intentions to independently explore Venus without extensive involvement of international cooperation.
Roscosmos also pointed out that the first missions to explore the planet were carried out by the Soviet Union, adding that the enormous gap between the Soviet Union and its competitors in the investigation of Venus is one of the main reasons why the US has called Venus a Soviet planet.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Roscosmos have worked together for decades. In 2014, they teamed up on the Venera-D project. However, most of Roscosmos-NASA's cooperation has been suspended by growing tensions between the two major space powers, in part due to the Ukrainian crisis in 2014 and alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
Although NASA has historically struggled with Venus missions and focused on exploring Mars, Roscosmos, on the other hand, has seen success in its robotic missions to Venus.
The Soviet Union, launched a number of probes to Venus from the early 1960s through the mid-1980s, as part of its Venera, the Russian name for Venus, and Vega programs.
Even though Venus is similar in size to Earth, the planet's atmosphere consists mainly of carbon dioxide and its average temperature reaches higher than 880 degrees Fahrenheit, or 471 degrees Celsius, which is not conducive to life. The Soviet Union launched a number of Venera spacecraft to the planet. Eventually, Venera-7 became the first probe to make a successful landing on Venus in 1970, and the mission sent data back to Earth for 23 minutes before it succumbed to the planet’s hellish conditions.