From Aviation Week and Space Technology 2005 November


The first Venus mission in 15 years--and the only one planned this decade--is off on a five-month journey to our nearest planet following a successful launch last week.

The 1.2-metric-ton Venus Express, built by EADS Astrium and Alcatel Alenia Space, blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Nov. 9 atop a Starsem Soyuz-Fregat booster. Immediate indications were that all systems were functioning normally.

The Fregat upper stage ignited a first time 9 min. into the flight, maneuvering the spacecraft into a low Earth parking orbit. A second firing, 1 hr., 22 min. later, boosted the probe into its interplanetary trajectory.

It was the year's second Starsem mission, after PanAmSat's Galaxy 14 in August.

The launch had initially been set for Oct. 26, but was delayed because of a thermal protection separation problem on the Soyuz upper stage. However, Gerhard Schwehm, head of planetary missions at the European Space Agency, which funded the mission, said that Nov. 9, near the middle of the month-long launch window, actually provided more favorable mission conditions. That, together with near-perfect Earth escape trajectory, will allow the mission to last up to 4.5 years. The nominal mission is two Venusian days (486 Earth days).

Venus Express was built in record time--five years from inception to launch--and at a relatively low cost of 220 million euros ($257 million), including instrumentation and two years of operation.

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