Venus Express is ESA's first mission to Earth's nearest planetary neighbour. The spacecraft is based on the Mars Express platform, with some modifications primarily due to the different thermal environment at Venus.
Many of the instruments on Venus Express are upgraded versions of those used on the Mars Express and Rosetta missions.
Venus Express's science objectives are to study the atmosphere, the plasma environment, and the surface of Venus in great detail.
The main body of the spacecraft, the spacecraft bus, is comprised of a honeycomb aluminium box 1.7m × 1.7m and 1.4m high, onto which all the payload instruments are integrated. The solar arrays with a collecting area of 5.7 m² provide 1100 W of power, now that the spacecraft is in orbit around Venus.
|ASPERA-4||Analyser of Space Plasmas and Energetic Atoms|
|PFS||Planetary Fourier Spectrometer|
|SPICAV||Spectroscopy for Investigation of Characteristics of the Atmosphere of Venus|
|VeRa||Venus Radio Science|
|VIRTIS||Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer|
|VMC||Venus Monitoring Camera|
Venus Express was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 9 November 2005. A Soyuz-Fregat rocket carried it into space and placed the spacecraft in its transfer orbit to Venus. After an interplanetary cruise that lasted 5 months, Venus Express arrived at Venus on 11 April 2006. A 50 minute engine burn slowed down the spacecraft and allowed it to enter orbit around the planet. The first capture orbit was an eccentric polar orbit and lasted 9 days. Several manoeuvres over the period 15 April - 6 May 2006 then lowered the spacecraft into its operational orbit: a 24-hour elliptical, quasi-polar orbit. At its closest, Venus Express reached an altitude of 250 kilometres and at its furthest, it was 66 000 kilometres away from the planet. Over three years later, between 13 July and 4 August 2009 a series of manoeuvres further lowered the pericentre of the orbit into the range 185-300 km, with the apocentre orbit still at about 66 000 km. After the conclusion of its main scientific mission in May 2014, the spacecraft’s altitude at closest approach to Venus was lowered even further, from 190 km to 130 km and eventually reaching a minimum of 129.2 km on 11 July. At this altitude the atmospheric drag on the spacecraft significantly altered its orbit, reducing it from 24 hours to 22 hours 20 minutes.
Mission Operations Centre
The Venus Express Mission Operations Centre (VMOC) is located at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany. Communications with the spacecraft are done using the ESA deep space ground station located in Cebreros, near Madrid, Spain. For observations to be carried out with the Venus Radio science experiment (VeRa) additional support comes from the New Norcia ground station.
During critical periods support has also been provided by the NASA Deep Space Network of stations. This support has enabled increased accuracy of spacecraft tracking during events such as Venus Orbit Insertion, as well as extra downlink during data-intensive observation campaigns like polar vortex movie acquisition.
Science Operations Centre
The Venus Express Science Operations Centre (VSOC) is located at the European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC) near Madrid, Spain.