The VeSpR (Venus Spectral Rocket) Experiment launched successfully from White Sand Missile Range. VeSpR will study the present day escape of water from the atmosphere of Venus and relate it to the past abundance of water on Venus by measuring hydrogen (H) and the heavier, slower to escape, deuterated hydrogen (D) above 90 km on Venus. The use of a pre-dispersing prism to prevent long wavelengths from entering the spectrograph permits a long-aperture approach to echelle spectroscopy, and the chosen combination of imaging and dispersion scales provides high spectral resolution of emission line profiles with a several arc sec wide aperture for good sensitivity. For comparable spectral resolution the HST/STIS uses a 0.2 arc sec aperture, which provides 375 times less solid angle on the sky than a 3 x 5 arc sec region observed by the sounding rocket telescope. Good data was obtained by both detectors with no obvious significant anomalies. Preliminary reports indicate a successful mission.
The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, mission launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Nov. 18. Now, the Venus Spectral Rocket, VeSpR for short, is scheduled to lift off from White Sands, N.M., on Nov. 25.
"It is appropriate that these launch dates are close together, because both missions will study atmospheric loss," said Kelly Fast, the program scientist for MAVEN and the program officer for Planetary Astronomy at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "VeSpR will peek at Venus from above Earth's absorbing atmosphere, and MAVEN will journey to Mars to do a long-term study."
VeSpR is a two-stage system, combining a Terrier missile – originally built as a surface-to-air missile and later repurposed to support science missions – and a Black Brant model Mk1 sounding rocket with a telescope inside. Integration took place at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
The experiments will look at ultraviolet (UV) light that is being emitted from Venus' atmosphere, which can provide information about the history of the planet's water. Measurements like these cannot be done using Earth-based telescopes because our atmosphere absorbs most UV light before it reaches the ground.