After 8 years orbiting around Venus, the European probe Venus Express has run out of fuel and will soon go up in flames in the planet’s atmosphere, revealed ESA (European Space Agency) on Wednesday. The probe’s altitude can no longer be controlled. Venus Express will therefore “gradually fall deeper into the atmosphere over the coming weeks”, explained ESA in a press release.
Venus Express was launched in November 2005 and started orbiting Venus on April 11th, 2006, for a detailed study of the planet and its atmosphere. It was orbiting along an elliptic curve over 24 hours, taking it from a point 66,000km above the South Pole to an altitude of 250km above the North Pole.
Its original mission was extended several times. Last spring it started on a new adventure, an “atmospheric drag”, or, in other words, a controlled dive into Venus’s atmosphere. Over the summer it “dipped” in and out of the atmosphere each time it came closer to the surface, at altitudes of between 130 and 135km.
Having survived these extremely dangerous situations, the Venus Express probe climbed up to a new orbit of approximately 460km at the end of July, to resume its observations. Under the effect of gravity this orbit was gradually reduced, until ESA decided at the end of November to attempt a series of manoeuvres meant to pull it away from the surface and extend its mission further. But since November 28th, contact with the probe has been limited and episodic.
“We have information confirming that we have lost control of the probe’s altitude”, stated Patrick Martin, Venus mission manager at ESA. “It is likely that Venus Express ran out of fuel approximately half-way through the manoeuvres scheduled last month”, he added.
Christopher Vincent (Source: Belga)