The Italian Almanac

space probe

Italian News / Europe - August 9

ESA's Venus Express spacecraft recently completed its last phase of testing in Europe and is ready to be shipped to its launch site at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. One and a half years after its sister spacecraft Mars Express arrived at Mars, Europe's newest planetary probe is ready to depart on the first leg of its journey to Earth's own sister planet, the mysterious Venus.

Venus Express was proposed in 2001, as a mission concept to take as much as possible of the Mars Express design and use it for another planetary mission. Work on Venus Express began in earnest eight months before Mars Express was launched. This meant that continuity was maintained in the programmes and the industrial consortium was kept almost unchanged. Thirty-four months later, the spacecraft has passed its Flight Acceptance Review, and is ready for shipping.

Built by Alenia Spazio of Turin, Italy, the spacecraft was brought to Toulouse with its seven scientific instruments, mainly inherited from the Mars Express and Rosetta missions, already integrated. These instruments will provide new clues on the planet's peculiar features, that still remain unexplained even though more than 20 Russian and US probes have visited Venus since 1964.

The mission will provide the most comprehensive study ever of the Venusian atmosphere. It will dig into mysteries such as the unexplained fast atmospheric rotation in four days around the planet and the polar vortices. It will study the global thermal balance and the role of the strongest 'greenhouse effect' found in the Solar System, as well as the structure and dynamics of the clouds and the mysterious ultraviolet markings detected above the cloud cover.