Monday, November 14, 2005

Venus Express Takes Off

by James Cassettari (Class of '05)

November 8th 2005 marked the date in which the Venus Express satellite will be launched by the European Space Agency. It will photograph and analyze areas of the harsh, hot, dry planet in an orbit that will last over a year. This will help in answering the speculation of possible traces of life in the clouds of Venus.

The mission will be the first Venus exploration done by the European Space Agency (ESA). There is a fascination with Venus and it is even considered the Earth's Evil twin because its size and mass are extremely similar. This is interesting to scientists because it can help provide new insights into what happened that made the two environments so drastically different.

The Venus Express is a continuation of the Mars Express mission that the ESA had put together previously. One major exception is that they needed to account for the fact that Venus is about twice as close to the Sun as Mars. The satellite used in the Venus Express Mission is virtually the same except for accommodations that were made to increase its strength and resistance against higher amounts of heat that surrounds the Venusian area.

Years of planning have been involved with the project as it was started in 2001. Its testing finally came to a conclusion in September of 2005. With its final electrical testing, it was ready for shipment to its launch site: Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan where it will be launched by a Russian Soyuz Fregat rocket. On November 5th 2005 it was moved to a launch pad, where it will take off for a very important mission for the ESA.

There was a minor setback and delay when the initial launch date was postponed due to a contamination of the satellite's very important insulation. Due to this inconvenience the launch date was changed from October 26th to November 8th. It will take the Venus Express an estimated 153 earth days to complete its trip from Earth to its orbit around Venus. When it finally does make it to the orbit it will take the equivalent of five earth days to complete a good orientation to the planet. It is going to spend 500 days gathering data in its orbit of the planet, but it will not be landing. There have been a few landings on Venus and unfortunately its harsh climate that includes temperatures of around 464 degrees C (864 degrees F) and acid rain have made landing missions difficult. The satellite will collect samples from the dense clouds and photograph different areas.

The photographs and samples that the Venus Express is collecting will be sent via the VaRa Venus Radio, that bounces data transmissions back to earth with radio waves. The photos taken will be of the highest quality from the wide angle Venus Monitoring Camera (VMC). The VMC is capable of capturing still and moving images, and is equipped with ultraviolet, thermal, and visible settings, which means it will take pictures that focus on different aspects on the planet, such as heat and light.

All in all the data that is recovered by the Venus Express will provide very detailed and important information regarding Venus' extremely complex and unforgiving atmosphere. It will be a very big acomplishment for the ESA and will provide valuable information to the world.


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