Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Venus Express

After a 153-day excursion through space, the ESA's Venus Express space entered Venusian orbit today. It is the ESA's first attempt to study the planet, and will be the first mission designed to peer beneath the thick clouds of Venus. The Russians and Amercians have been to Venus, but the last mission was NASA's Magellan, which ended in the mid-1990s. Earth and Venus are quite similar, yet hundreds of millions of years ago, Venus took a different evolutionary path that saw it trapping the heat from the Sun and the output from Venusian volcanoes. Today, temperatures hit highs of 466-degrees-centigrade, with atmospheric pressure hundreds of times greater than Earth's.

Venus is currently 78 million miles from Earth and a signal from Earth would take 7 minutes to reach Venus Express. Venus Express therefore had to enter the Venusian orbit by executing preprogrammed maneuvers on its own. The initial capture orbit is large, and it will take the next few weeks for Venus Express to reach its ideal orbit. Scientific operations are slated to start at the beginning of June, when the spacecraft is in the proper orbit, and will last an initial 2 Venus days. If the spacecraft survives that long, its mission may be extended.

Update: April 12, 2006
Here's an ESA video made sometime ago that introduces the Venus Express mission.

Update: April 13, 2006
  • Click for an ESA video promoting the science behind the Venus Express mission.
  • Click for an ESA video that compares Earth with Venus, and speculates on the science we could learn from the Venus Express mission.

Update: April 15, 2006
The first images are in from Venus Express, and were taken during the initial capture orbit, of Venus' south pole. The images are low quality, as they are taken from some distance from Venus, but they reveal a spiral structure over the south pole -- similar to one found over the north pole.


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