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|28 November 2007|
Venus Express is Europe’s first mission to Earth’s twin world. Venus is a place of many mysteries waiting to be solved. The big question is: why did a planet so similar to Earth in size, mass and composition evolve so differently over the course of the last 4000 million years?
The mission’s major objective is the first global examination of the atmosphere of Venus. The very hot and dense atmosphere appears to be completely different from the one around Earth. Existing meteorological models fail to predict the behaviour of Venus’ thicker blanket of gases. Venus Express’ objectives include the study of:
Major achievements so far
Venus Express has provided:
ESA’s investment is about 220 million Euros, covering the development of the spacecraft, the launch and the operations. This amount includes 15 million Euros as support to several research institutes for building the instruments. Rosetta, Mars Express and Venus Express are a family of missions in which costs are shared.
Venus Express was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 9 November 2005 aboard a Soyuz rocket, using a Fregat upper stage to place it in a transfer orbit to Venus.
Its journey to the planet lasted 155 days. Venus Express was captured into an orbit around its target on 11 April 2006, via a delicate manoeuvre that required the spacecraft’s main engine to fire for 50 minutes. About five days later, a two-week series of manoeuvres began to put the spacecraft into its final operational orbit, reached on 7 May 2006. This orbit circles above the poles every 24 hours. At its closest, the orbit reaches down to 250 kilometres altitude (at 80ºN, almost over the North Pole). At its furthest, it is more than 60 000 kilometres from the planet, almost over the South Pole. After a period of commissioning for the spacecraft and instruments, Venus Express started science operations on 4 July 2006.
Planned mission lifetime
The science mission at Venus is planned to last until end 2014.
Design: Venus Express is a virtual twin of Mars Express. However, the engineers modified the spacecraft to withstand the harsh environment around Venus (the spacecraft receives four times the amount of solar radiation as Mars Express). The body is a honeycombed aluminium box that houses all the systems and payload. Wherever possible, off-the-shelf units were used; the instruments are largely flight spares from Mars Express and Rosetta. Spacecraft technology developed from Rosetta was also reused wherever possible. Both approaches helped to keep down costs.
Dimensions: 1.5 x 1.8 x 1.4 m (excluding solar wings). With the solar wings extended, Venus Express measures about 8 m across.
Mass: 1240 kg in total, including 93 kg of payload and about 570 kg of propellants.
Industrial involvement: The prime contractor was Astrium, Toulouse (France), leading an industrial consortium involving 25 companies from 14 European countries.
UV and IR Spectrometer for solar/stellar occultation and Nadir Observations (SPICAV/SOIR)
Principal Investigator: Jean-Loup Bertaux, Service d’Aéronomie du CNRS, France, leading a team of 22 co-investigators from five countries.
UV-visible-near-IR imaging spectrometer (VIRTIS)
Principal Investigators: Pierre Drossart, Observatoire de Paris, France, and Giuseppe Piccioni, IASF-INAF, Rome, Italy, lead a team of co-investigators from ten other institutes.
Analyser of Space Plasma and Energetic Atoms (ASPERA)
Principal Investigator: Stas Barabash, Institute of Space Physics, Kiruna, Sweden, leading a team of 32 co-investigators from 12 other institutes.
Venus Radio Science (VeRa)
Principal Investigator: Bernd Häusler, Universität der Bundeswehr, München, Germany, leading a team of seven other co-investigators from five other institutes.
Venus Monitoring Camera (VMC)
Principal Investigator: Wojtek Markiewicz, MPI-Ae, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany, leading a team of 13 co-investigators from ten other institutes.
Principal Investigator: Tielong Zhang, IWF, Graz, Austria, leading a team of 18 co-investigators from seven other institutes.
Venus Express’ High Resolution Infrared Fourier Spectrometer (PFS) has unfortunately never been operational, owing to a malfunction that could not be fixed by a series of attempts performed in space. The pointing mirror is stuck in its closed position, preventing the spectrometer (otherwise working perfectly) from seeing its targets. PFS was meant to measure the temperature of the atmosphere at altitudes of 55–100 km at a very high resolution, and to make composition measurements of the atmosphere. It was also meant to measure the surface temperature and thereby search for volcanic activity. Thanks to careful scientific planning and optimised use of the other instruments, several of the PFS’s scientific objectives are being achieved.
Principal Investigator: Vittorio Formisano, IFSI-CNR, Rome, Italy, leading a team of 41 co-investigators from 11 other institutes.
The Venus Express Science Operation Centre (VSOC) is in ESA’s ESAC centre in Villafranca, near Madrid, Spain. It is defining and coordinating the scientific observations and assisting the teams in operating their instruments.
ESA Mission Manager: Fred Jansen
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