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Contact: Erica Rolfe
European Space Agency

European success at Venus

Artist's impression of Venus Express orbit insertion
Click here for a high resolution photograph.

On the morning of 11 April, after a 400-million km cruise across the inner Solar System, ESA’s Venus Express spacecraft successfully entered orbit around the second planet from the Sun.

153 days after its launch from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the 1.2 tonne European space probe fired its main engine at 09:17 Central European Summer Time. During a 50-minute burn, the probe reduced its velocity from 29,000 to about 25,000 km/h. This braking manoeuvre was a complete success, enabling the gravity of Venus to capture Europe’s robotic explorer.

“With the arrival of Venus Express, ESA is the only space agency to have science operations under way around four planets: Venus, the Moon, Mars and Saturn,” said Professor David Southwood, the Director of ESA’s science programmes.

Venus Express communicates with Earth
Click here for a high resolution photograph.

The commissioning of the onboard scientific instruments will begin shortly and the first data are expected within days. The science payload is expected to be fully operational within two months.

At present, Venus Express is in a highly elongated 9-day orbit. During the next four weeks, the spacecraft will gradually move into a 24-hour polar orbit between 250 km and 66,000 km above Venus. From 7 May onwards, Venus Express will be in position to begin its scientific exploration of the mysterious, cloud-covered planet.

Seven instruments will conduct an in-depth study of Earth’s sister world over a period of at least two Venusian days (486 Earth days). Scientists are particularly keen to learn more about the planet’s dense, choking atmosphere and the scorching surface hidden beneath the clouds.