Volume: 04, Issue: 16 04/05/2006 
An artist's impression of the first firing test of the Venus Express spacecraft main engine, being performed in space during the night of 16/17 February 2006. Image credit: ESA.
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An ultraviolet image of Venus' clouds as seen by the Pioneer Venus orbiter in 1979. 
Pioneer Venus used an orbiter and several small probes to study the planet from above and within the clouds. This image is from the orbiter. Image credit: NASA.
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Magellan Venusian radar image shows Venus' surface Lava Domes with seven pancake-like circular domical hills visible. Image credit: NASA Johnson Space Center.
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Other Articles in This Issue:
NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Craft Begins Adjusting Orbit
Cassini Finds “Missing Link” Moonlet Evidence in Saturn’s Rings
Total Solar Eclipse
Professional Development Workshops and Institutes

Venus within ESA Probe Reach

After its five month, 400 million kilometer journey inside our solar system following its lift-off on November 9, 2005, ESA’s probe Venus Express will finally arrive on April 11, 2006, at its destination: planet Venus.

Venus Express mission controllers at the ESA Space Operations Center (ESOC) is Darmstadt, Germany, are making intensive preparations for orbit insertion. This comprises a series of telecommands, engine burns, and maneuvers designed to slow the spacecraft down from a velocity of 29,000 km per hour relative to Venus, just before the first burn, to an entry velocity some 15 percent slower, allowing the probe to be captured into orbit around the planet.

The spacecraft will have to ignite its main engine for 50 minutes in order to achieve deceleration and place itself into a highly elliptical orbit around the planet. Most of its 570 kg of onboard propellant will be used for this maneuver. The spacecraft’s solar arrays will be positioned to reduce the possibility of excessive mechanical load during engine ignition.

Over the subsequent days, a series of additional burns will be done to lower the orbit apocenter and to control the pericenter. The aim is to end up in 24-hour orbit around Venus early in May.

Venus Express will study the Venusian atmosphere and clouds in unprecedented detail and accuracy. The name Venus Express comes from the short time it took to define, prepare, and launch the mission. It took less than three years from the approval to the launch of the mission. The idea for Venus Express came out of a competition for European scientists to reuse existing technology and industrial teams. Venus Express is ESA's first spacecraft to visit this planet.

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