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The Mission




Mission: Venus Express
Rocket: Soyuz-Fregat
Launch: Nov. 9, 2005
Time: 0333 GMT (10:33 p.m. EST on Nov. 8)
Site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan



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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

Earth's twin planet has its first new permanent visitor in 15 years on the way after today's successful launch of Venus Express - a European probe that will orbit the second rock from the Sun to study its inhospitable and enigmatic atmosphere. Read our full launch story.

0614 GMT (1:14 a.m. EST)

The twin solar arrays are deployed and pointed at the sun for power generation, mission control says.

0610 GMT (1:10 a.m. EST)

Starsem reports Venus Express has been placed on the right trajectory.

0606 GMT (1:06 a.m. EST)

Jean Jacques Dordain, ESA Director General, is telling the post-launch news conference that the Venus Express spacecraft is full of energy and communicating with ground controllers following today's successful liftoff.

0518 GMT (12:18 a.m. EST)

ESA says the Fregat rocket's second burn has put Venus Express on an Earth-escape trajectory.

0514 GMT (12:14 a.m. EST)

T+plus 1 hour, 41 minutes. By this point in the flight the Fregat should have completed its burn and then released Venus Express. We're awaiting confirmation from ESA that these events have occurred successfully.

0418 GMT (11:18 p.m. EST Tues.)

T+plus 45 minutes. The flight path of the parking orbit is taking Venus Express over the southeastern Pacific at this point in the launch sequence. The course will cross the lower tip of South America in the next quarter-hour, and then begin a northeasterly trek across the Atlantic. The upcoming burn of Fregat begins over Africa at about T+plus 80 minutes.

0358 GMT (10:58 p.m. EST Tues.)

T+plus 25 minutes. The spacecraft is flying over the northwestern Pacific Ocean now.

0348 GMT (10:48 p.m. EST Tues.)

T+plus 15 minutes. ESA says the first Fregat burn has been successful. The vehicle is now coasting in Earth orbit for more than an hour before the upper stage is re-started to propel the spacecraft on its flight to Venus.

0342 GMT (10:42 p.m. EST Tues.)

T+plus 9 minutes. The third stage motor has completed its firing and dropped away. The Fregat upper stage now must perform a brief firing to achieve an initial parking orbit around Earth.

0340 GMT (10:40 p.m. EST Tues.)

T+plus 7 minutes. ESA officials say all is going very well during today's launch.

0339 GMT (10:39 p.m. EST Tues.)

T+plus 6 minutes. Soyuz is now being powered by its third stage.

0336 GMT (10:36 p.m. EST Tues.)

T+plus 3 minutes. The first stage strap-on boosters have been jettisoned. The second stage core is still running as planned. All system parameters are reported normal.

0334 GMT (10:34 p.m. EST Tues.)

T+plus 1 minute. A beautiful takeoff for the Soyuz rocket! The vehicle has punched through a high, thin layer of clouds as the engines continue to fire.

0333:34 GMT (10:33:34 p.m. EST Tues.)

LIFTOFF! The Venus Express spacecraft sets sail on its mission to explore the mysteries of Earth's planetary neighbor!

0332 GMT (10:32 p.m. EST Tues.)

T-minus 40 seconds. The pad umbilical service arm is pulling away.

0330 GMT (10:30 p.m. EST Tues.)

T-minus 3 minutes and counting!

0327 GMT (10:27 p.m. EST Tues.)

The Venus Express flight director in mission control has given the final "go" for launch.

0323 GMT (10:23 p.m. EST Tues.)

The spacecraft has gone to internal battery power for launch.

0315 GMT (10:15 p.m. EST Tues.)

The sun has risen over the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The Soyuz will make its fiery ascent through the sky in about 18 minutes.

0310 GMT (10:10 p.m. EST Tues.)

The pad's retractable service towers have been lowered away from the rocket as the countdown remains on schedule for blastoff of Venus Express.

0233 GMT (9:33 p.m. EST Tues.)

Now one hour from launch. ESA says Soyuz fueling has been completed as planned. Next up in the countdown will be retraction of the service gantry from around the rocket in about 15 minutes.

0130 GMT (8:30 p.m. EST Tues.)

Fueling of the Soyuz rocket with its liquid propellants is underway for tonight's launch of the Venus Express orbiter for the European Space Agency. The State Commission met about four-and-a-half hours before the scheduled launch time to review the status of systems and give approval to begin the fuel loading process.

Liftoff remains set for 0333 GMT (10:33 p.m. EST).

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 2005

A robotic space probe to examine the mysteries of Venus, the closest planet to Earth, will embark on its mission at 0333 GMT (10:33 p.m. EST) Tuesday night.

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

Launch has been rescheduled for 0333 GMT on November 9. That equates to 10:33 p.m. EST on November 8.

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2005

European scientists are reasonably confident their Venus Express spacecraft will launch to Earth's nearest neighbor before the tight window of opportunity when the planets are aligned slams shut in a few weeks.

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.

Copyright 2005 SpaceflightNow.com, all rights reserved.


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