The European Space Agency (ESA) announced today (December 16, 2014) that it has officially declared an ending to the eight-year mission of the Venus Express spacecraft. Like so many other space missions, this one exceeded its planned mission life. However, ESA finally lost full contact with Venus Express on November 28, 2014. Since then the telemetry and telecommand links had been partially re-established, but, ESA says, they were unstable and only limited information could be retrieved. Thus ESA decided to end the mission now, with the spacecraft expected to fall into Venus’ thick atmosphere and likely be destroyed in the coming weeks.
Earlier this year, as propellant for its propulsion system was dwindling, Venus Express was tasked with a daring aerobraking campaign in Venus’ atmosphere. During June and July, the spacecraft dipped progressively lower into the atmosphere on its closest approaches to the planet.
Normally, the spacecraft would perform routine thruster burns to ensure that it did not come too close to Venus and risk being lost in the atmosphere. But this unique campaign was aimed at achieving the opposite, that is, reducing the altitude and allowing an exploration of previously uncharted regions of the atmosphere.
Since its arrival at Venus in 2006, Venus Express had been on an elliptical 24?hour orbit, typically traveling about 41,000 miles (66,000 km) above Venus’ south pole at its furthest point and to within 125 miles (200 km) over the north pole on its closest approach.
After eight years in orbit and a glorious record of achievement behind it, Venus Express will be missed!
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.