November 09 – Launch of Venus Express (2005)

Venus Express was the first mission to Venus by the European Space Agency.  It used the same basic platform used for the Mars Express mission of 2003, keeping costs down, and allowing rather a swifter progression than normal from the proposal of the mission to the actual launch.

The launch, on November 9th 2005, was from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which by that time was no longer behind the Iron Curtain, and available to rent.  I’m not sure how much it costs to launch from Baikonur, but the Russians were paying the Kazakh government $115m (US) a year for the privilege in 2016.

After a voyage of just over 5 months, Venus Express parked in a near-polar orbit, chosen to give it the best view possible of most of the planet.  Obviously most of the focus was on studying the structure and composition of the extremely thick Venusian atmosphere, but observations of the surface have also been made possible by use of the Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS).  This has helped support the theory that Venus has recently seen volcanic activity.

Venus Express (image copyright ESA)
Venus Express (image copyright ESA)

You can see VIRTIS on the above image.  Also indicated are the magnetometer (MAG), the Fourier spectrometer (PFS) and the camera (VMC).

After a fairly lengthy working life of nine years (seven more than the original plan) ESA announced the Venus Express mission was over in December 2014.

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