Airbus Defence and Space was prime contractor to ESA for the design and development of Venus Express, the first European spacecraft to visit the planet Venus.
Venus Express was launched on a Soyuz/Fregat rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in November 2005. After a five-month journey, it arrived at its destination orbit around Venus in April 2006. The mission around Venus was designed to last two Venusian days (486 Earth days) – due to the planet’s slow rotation, a day at Venus is in fact longer than a year. This successful mission has been granted an extension until 31 December 2014, subject to a mid-term review in 2012.
Analysing the prevailing conditions in the atmosphere and in the near environment of Venus is of crucial importance for the understanding of long-term climatic evolution processes on Earth. The Venus Express mission is carrying out a global investigation of the Venusian atmosphere in terms of structure, composition and dynamics up to an altitude of 250km. For this, it has seven scientific instruments: spectrometers, spectro-imagers and imagers covering a wavelength range from UV to thermal IR, along with a full plasma analyser.
By re-using both the Mars Express spacecraft design and spare instruments available from the earlier Mars Express and Rosetta programmes (both primed by Airbus Defence and Space), Venus Express was able to meet the triple challenge of scientific objectives, cost efficiency and unprecedented development schedule.
The Venus Express mission is providing fascinating data on Venus’ titanic weather system, which is ruled by still largely unexplained forces that whip up hurricane-force gales and generate double-eyed vortices over both the planet’s poles.