BY JUSTIN RAY
Follow the countdown and launch of the Venus Express spacecraft. Reload this page for the very latest on the mission.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2005
0614 GMT (1:14 a.m. EST)
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0514 GMT (12:14 a.m. EST)
0418 GMT (11:18 p.m. EST Tues.)
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0233 GMT (9:33 p.m. EST Tues.)
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Liftoff remains set for 0333 GMT (10:33 p.m. EST).
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 2005
The European Space Agency's Venus Express is nestled aboard its Russian Soyuz-Fregat rocket at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan where countdown activities are in full swing.
The mission was delayed a couple of weeks so technicians could clean bits of insulation that became contamination inside the rocket's nose cone. That work was completed in time for Venus Express to be re-mated to the Soyuz booster last week, and the completely assembled vehicle was rolled out to the launch pad on Saturday morning.
A countdown dress rehearsal was conducted Monday, giving the spacecraft team a final chance to practice events leading up to liftoff.
"We are already receiving live telemetry from the spacecraft in Baikonur on top of the Soyuz launcher via an umbilical cable plugged into launch control and feeding back to ESOC," said Paolo Ferri, Venus Express flight operations director at ESA's European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany.
Despite the recent delay, teams have remained busy preparing to see their mission dispatched from Earth.
"We had to do a lot of work to replan the pre- and post-launch activities, so there wasn't too much time to worry while waiting for the new date," said Paolo. "But today, people are extremely motivated."
The lower three stages of the Soyuz rocket will carry Venus above Earth's atmosphere. From there, the Fregat motor will ignite to propel the spacecraft into a preliminary parking orbit. Venus Express and the attached Fregat then coast for more than an hour before the upper stage re-ignites to provide the boost to escape Earth's gravity and begin the cruise to Venus.
The spacecraft should reach our planetary neighbor on April 11, firing its main engine to brake into orbit around Venus.
The mission will perform the most comprehensive examination of the Venusian atmosphere and conduct new observations of the planet's surface.
MONDAY, OCTOBER 31, 2005
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2005
The mission was supposed to blast off Wednesday from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. But contamination found on the satellite forced launch preparations to stop, putting Venus Express into an unplanned holding pattern.
The spacecraft was already mated to its Soyuz rocket inside an assembly building in advance of being rolled to the launch pad. Then came the discovery of some insulation material that had come off the Fregat upper stage and was floating free inside the rocket's nose cone where Venus Express sat encapsulated for launch.
Over the weekend, the Fregat and spacecraft still tucked inside the nose cone were detached from the Soyuz for train transport to another facility 25 miles away. The shroud was opened Monday, enabling inspections of Venus Express by technicians to determine if any damage had occurred by the insulation.
European Space Agency officials said Tuesday that the spacecraft appeared to be in good health.
"The scenario is so far very encouraging, as only fairly large particles, pieces of the insulating material initially covering the launcher's Fregat upper stage, have been found on the body of the spacecraft," ESA said in a press statement.
"These have been easy to identify by naked eye or with UV lamps, and are being carefully removed with tweezers, vacuum-cleaners or nitrogen gas airbrushes, according to size."
The cleaning will continue for the next few days, followed by re-installation of the nose cone and transfer back to the Soyuz rocket's assembly building.
Although a new launch date has not been set, liftoff is expected to be targeted for sometime between November 6 and 9. Venus Express must launch by November 24 to catch the necessary trajectory from Earth to its destination.
"The ESA Project team is confident that Venus Express will be launched well within the launch window," the press statement said.
The probe should reach Venus five months after launch. It will fire the onboard main engine to enter orbit around the planet for the most comprehensive examination of the mysterious Venusian atmosphere and new observations of its surface.
The mission, Europe's first exploration of Venus, will last two Venusian days or 486 Earth days.
"There are so many interesting questions about Venus. For example, why is the atmosphere rotating so fast around the planet while the planet itself is rotating so slowly? We believe that long ago the temperature was much less than now and that water was flowing on Venus, but how and when did it disappear?" said Hakan Svedhem, the Venus Express project scientist.
"The whole surface of Venus has not long ago (in geological terms) been completely changed by material from the interior streaming out through volcanoes and cracks in the crust. Is this process still active somewhere on the planet?
"Perhaps the most fascinating question about Venus is that Venus was once quite similar to Earth, but now the two planets are very different. Why are they so different now and when did this change start?"
Venus Express will fly in a highly elliptical orbit looping from 155 miles at its closest point to 41,000 miles at the most distant. The EADS Astrium-built craft carries seven instruments mostly derived from Europe's Mars Express and the Rosetta comet mission.
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