Venus Express blasts off

by Chris Bergin

The European Space Agency have launched Venus Express at 04:33 CET by a Soyuz-Fregat rocket, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazahkstan.

The spacecraft is the first mission to Venus, our closest neighbour, for 15 years – and will help study the effects of global warming.

The spectacular launch was viewed live around with the world via an ESA webcast, although cloud cover hampered viewing of the booster separation.

ESA mission control is now awaiting for the first signal from Venus Express, confirming the launch has completed its initial stages for the trip to Venus.

‘The first signal from Venus Express is due as early as one hour and 56 minutes after launch, about 20 minutes after separation from the Fregat upper stage.

‘There will be four antennas listening for it. It can take 10 or 20 minutes to grab the signal, which can be difficult since the spacecraft may still be rotating, but we’ll find it,’ said Kris Capelle, Operations Manager at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, on the ESA official site.

Venus is intriguing given it is a similar in size and mass to Earth and about the same distance from the Sun – but their environments could not be further apart.

Beneath Venus’s thick carbon dioxide atmosphere, the surface bakes at 450C and the atmospheric pressure is 90 times greater than the Earth’s. Sulphuric acid rain falls from the sky, there have been planet-wide volcano eruptions and scientists think volcanic activity probably goes on all the time.

The launch took place at this time as every nineteen months Venus reaches the point where a voyage from Earth is the most fuel-efficient.

8:30am UK time update from ESA:
“The European spacecraft Venus Express has been successfully placed into a trajectory that will take it on its journey from Earth towards its destination of the planet Venus, which it will reach next April.

“Venus Express will eventually manoeuvre itself into orbit around Venus in order to perform a detailed study of the structure, chemistry and dynamics of the planet’s atmosphere, which is characterised by extremely high temperatures, very high atmospheric pressure, a huge ‘greenhouse effect’ and as-yet inexplicable ‘super-rotation’ which means that it speeds around the planet in just four days.”

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