The mission of the Venus Express space probe has ended

Artistic concept of ESA Venus Express space probe orbiting Venus (Image ESA)
Artistic concept of ESA Venus Express space probe orbiting Venus (Image ESA)

ESA has declared the end of the Venus Express space probe’s mission. As of November 28, 2014, contacts have become unstable and the mission control center lost control of the spacecraft. It was known that it was almost out of fuel but ESA hoped that there was still some increase the altitude of Venus Express to allow it to extend its mission for some more days. Now it’s expected to fall in the atmosphere of the planet Venus, where it will be destroyed by its enormous pressure and its high temperatures corrosive compounds.

The Venus Express mission was proposed in 2001 to exploit the existing design of another spacecraft, the Mars Express. The new spacecraft was built with the necessary adaptations to send it into the orbit of a planet much closer to the Sun than Mars.

Some instruments were developed for the Rosetta mission and various spare parts were available were therefore used to this new mission. In particular, VIRTIS (Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer) is almost identical to that of Rosetta.

The Venus Express space probe was launched on November 9, 2005 on a Soyuz-FG/Fregat rocket and reached the orbit of Venus on April 11, 2006. Its primary mission lasted 500 Earth days and at its end there was a series extensions that lasted until the spacecraft ran out of fuel. In the course of over eight and a half years, it studied the planet Venus as no probe had ever done before.

In particular, the Venus Express space probe studied the climate of Venus to understand why a planet in many ways very similar to Earth has become a hell. The instruments have also observed the Earth from the orbit of Venus to understand how an inhabited planet is seen from far away. During the mission there were also surprises such as the discovery that the day of Venus is becoming longer.

During last summer Venus Express performed various maneuvers, a kind of surf on the upper limit of the planet’s atmosphere. ESA knew that it was about run out of fuel and decided to use most of the remaining that way. The last maneuvers to raise its altitude that were intended to extend the spacecraft’s life weren’t completed, a clear sign that it ran out of fuel.

For several days ESA engineers tried to stabilize the contact with Venus Express and send maneuver commands without success, confirming it ran out of fuel. Eventually, ESA declared the end of a mission that was very successful in improving our knowledge of the planet Venus.

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