European space probe enters orbit around Venus
11 April 2006, DARMSTADT, GERMANY - A European space probe began orbiting Venus on Tuesday after a five-month journey of 400 million kilometres across space.
11 April 2006
DARMSTADT, GERMANY - A European space probe began orbiting Venus on Tuesday after a five-month journey of 400 million kilometres across space.
The Venus Express started circling the planet after firing its main engine for 50 minutes to reduce speed and allow it to be caught in the planet's gravitational pull.
Scientists at the European Space Agency confirmed the success of the orbit insertion manoeuvre one hour after the unmanned spacecraft reached the planet at 0817 GMT.
"Previously we had a space probe. Now we have a scientific mission," said ESA director-general Jean Jacques Dordain.
The mission is the first by ESA to what is often described as Earth's sister planet, a cloud-covered, scorching-hot globe that is closer to the sun than the Earth is.
The crucial commands for the orbit were radioed from the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, southern Germany. If these had gone wrong, the craft could either have crashed on the surface or flown past the planet and back into space.
The 1.2-ton unmanned probe blasted off on its journey aboard a Soyuz carrier rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome Kazakhstan on November 9, 2005.
During the next four weeks, the Venus Express probe will perform a series of manoeuvres to reach the scheduled operational orbit for its scientific mission.
This is a very special moment," said Dordain. "Venus is our sister planet and we need to know why it developed so differently from the Earth."
Costing 220 million euros (264 million dollars), the satellite will fly an elliptical orbit around the planet's two poles, descending as low as 250 kilometres and as high as 66,000 kilometres.
No landing is planned on the surface, where temperatures above 400 degrees Celsius prevail and conditions are hostile to life.
The spacecraft is carrying an array of special instruments, some of them upgraded versions of those used on previous ESA missions to Mars and the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
Three spectrometers will profile the atmosphere of Venus, monitor surface temperature and search for traces of water molecules, oxygen and sulphur compounds.
Scientists hope the orbiter's in-depth observation of the structure, chemistry and dynamics of the atmosphere will teach them more about how atmospheres and climates are established on planets.
Venus is shrouded in a thick atmosphere where extremes of temperature and pressure conditions are common. The atmosphere creates a greenhouse effect with heat held in by thick clouds. One day on Venus lasts the same as 243 days on Earth because of its very slow rotation. It takes the equivalent of 225 Earth days to orbit the sun.
Venus Express is the first mission to the planet since that of an unmanned US spacecraft 16 years ago.
Subject: German news