May 16, 2014
After eight years in orbit, ESA’s Venus Express has completed routine science observations and is preparing for a daring plunge into the planet’s hostile atmosphere.
Venus Express was launched on a Soyuz–Fregat from the Russian Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 9 November 2005, and arrived at Venus on 11 April 2006.
It has been orbiting Venus in an elliptical 24-hour loop that takes it from a distant 66 000 km over the south pole – affording incredible global views – to an altitude of around 250 km above the surface at the north pole, close to the top of the planet’s atmosphere.
With a suite of seven instruments, the spacecraft has provided a comprehensive study of the ionosphere, atmosphere and surface of Venus.
“Venus Express has taught us just how variable the planet is on all timescales and, furthermore, has given us clues as to how it might have changed since its formation 4.6 billion years ago,” says Håkan Svedhem, ESA’s project scientist.
“This information is helping us decipher how Earth and Venus came to lead such dramatically different lives, but we’ve also noticed that there are some fundamental similarities.”
image credit: ESA, C. Carreau