After Eight Years, the Venus Express is About to Take the Plunge

Back in 2006, the Venus Express probe finished about a year-long journey when it arrived to study our sister planet, Venus, and it has been completing a wide elliptical orbit around the planet again and again, sometimes coming quite close and sometimes moving further away as it documented some interesting things. Over the last six years, the probe’s sensitive equipment took note of an increase the wind velocity, and discovered the possibility that Venus once may have had a surface much like our own in many ways, complete with an ocean, and a vast system of plate tectonics. The planet’s surface also has volcanoes that might even still be active, which would probably be aided by the extremely hot, 840 degree Fahrenheit temperature there.

Now, eight years later, the Venus Express probe is quite low on fuel, so the European Space Agency officials have decided upon a daring course of action. They intend to send the probe into a deep dive straight into the planet’s atmosphere so they can document its effects on the spacecraft and its systems. They do not expect the probe to survive the endeavor, though if it does they’ll probably send it back into orbit to continue taking pictures until the fuel supply is exhausted. Either way, the probe’s mission is now coming to an end.

The big plunge is set to begin on June 18, when the ESA will exercise an “aerobraking” maneuver which will be good practice for possible future missions that might involve such an action. Then, they will send the probe into almost a month-long dive they expect to end around July 11. During that descent, the Venus Express will record wind speed, pressure, temperature, and other data, all which will be beamed back for scientists to study.

There have been over twenty visits to Venus over the last fifty years or so, including on by NASA’s Mariner 2 in 1962, a visit by the Soviet Union’s Venera 7 in 1970, and more recently an attempt by the Japanese to go there back in 2010 that was unsuccessful. The planet has now become a hot destination as Japan plans an attempt to return, and the USA also plans to visit as well as mentioned here.

What do we know about Venus?

One of the things the Venus Express observed was a drastic shift in weather patterns, with the wind accelerating quite a bit while the probe looked on. This story of the planet’s amazing cyclone is one such event.