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Venera 4, the first spacecraft to return data about the atmosphere of Venus
Science & Exploration

Past missions to Venus

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ESA / Science & Exploration / Space Science / Venus Express

Despite the intensive past exploration of the planet, many of the planet’s peculiar features remained unexplained, opening up the door for a new phase in the exploration of Venus.

This important scientific call was picked up by Europe and an orbiter mission was developed by the European Space Agency and launched in November 2005.

The Pioneer Venus spacecraft
The Pioneer Venus spacecraft

NASA's Pioneer Venus mission (1978), the Soviet Union's Venera 15 and 16 missions (1983-1984), and NASA's Magellan radar mapping mission (1990-1994) provided together a comprehensive picture of a dry world, with landscapes shaped by volcanic and intense geological activity. There were vast plains marked by lava flows, bordered by highlands and mountains.

The Soviet Russian Venera 15 spacecraft
The Soviet Russian Venera 15 spacecraft

Later on, the discovery of the night-side thermal emissions from the deep inside the atmosphere of Venus provided an effective tool to peek through the dense clouds and study the lower atmospheric layers.

The Galileo and Cassini spacecraft were the first to use this phenomena during their short fly-bys en route to Jupiter and Saturn.

But the history of Venus exploration goes back even further...

 Mission (year)  Type Highlights  
Mariner 2
USA, 1962
Atmospheric probe First spacecraft at Venus. Closest distance 35 000 km. No magnetic field detected.
Venera 4
USSR, 1967
Atmospheric probe First probe to return data about atmospheric composition. Crushed by pressure before reaching the surface.
Venera 5 & 6
USSR, 1969
Atmospheric probes Detected presence of atmospheric nitrogen and oxygen. Crushed by pressure before reaching the surface.
Venera 7
USSR, 1970
Lander First successful soft landing of a spacecraft on another planet. Measured surface temperature and pressure.
Venera 8
USSR, 1972
Lander First to measure windspeed as it descended through atmosphere. Surface composition measured by gamma-ray spectrometer.
Mariner 10
USA, 1974
Fly-by First spacecraft to have an imaging system, flew by on way to Mercury in 1974. Recorded atmospheric circulation and cloud-top temperatures.
Venera 9 & 10
USSR, 1975
2 orbiter/landers First spacecraft in orbit around Venus. Landers returned the first black and white panoramic images of surface.
Pioneer Venus 1 & 2
USA, 1978-1992
1 orbiter
4 atmospheric probes
Longest mission in orbit around Venus (14 years). First orbiter to make radar map of surface. Measured structure, composition and cloud properties down to 12 km altitude.
Venera 11 & 12
USSR, 1978
Fly-by, 2 landers Landers investigated structure and composition of atmosphere and clouds, measured solar radiation. Atmospheric dynamics were studied by Doppler tracking.
Venera 13 & 14
USSR, 1982
Fly-by, 2 landers Landers returned the first colour panoramic views of the surface. Conducted soil analysis, found leucite basalt (rare on Earth) and tholeiitic basalt .
Venera 15 & 16
USSR, 1983
2 orbiters Radar mapping of the surface. Detailed study of mesosphere and cloud tops by high-resolution thermal emission spectroscopy.
Vega 1 & 2
USSR, 1985
Fly-bys, 1 lander and 1 balloon each En route to Comet Halley, dropped first balloons into atmosphere of another planet, to record winds. Landers provided precise temperature profiles down to surface.
USA, 1990-1994
Orbiter First almost-global radar mapping of the surface.
USA, 1990
Fly-by en route to Jupiter Spectral imaging of night-side near-infrared emissions. Detection of radio waves possibly emitted by lightning.
USA/ESA/I, 1998/99
Fly-by en route to Saturn Spectral imaging of night-side near-infrared emissions.

NASA's MESSENGER mission to Mercury also made use of Venus for flybys in 2006 and 2007; the ESA-JAXA BepiColombo mission to Mercury will also fly by Venus in 2020 and 2021, with plans to conduct some scientific observations. Venus gravity assists flybys are also used by NASA's Solar Parker Probe and in the future will also be used by ESA's Solar Orbiter mission.

Following Venus Express successful orbiting mission between 2006 and 2014, the only other Venus orbiter has been JAXA's Akatsuki mission; after a failed orbital insertion manouever in 2010 it made a successful second attempt in 2015.

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