Paris, 31 Mar 2006
After its five-month, 400-million-kilometre journey inside our Solar System following its lift-off on 9 November 2005, ESA's Venus Express spacecraft will finally arrive on 11 April at its destination: planet Venus. Venus Express mission controllers at the ESA Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, are making intensive preparations for orbit insertion.
This comprises a series of telecommands, engine burns and manoeuvres designed to slow the spacecraft down from a velocity of 29000 km per hour relative to Venus, just before the first burn, to an entry velocity some 15% slower, allowing the spacecraft to be captured into orbit around the planet.
The spacecraft will have to ignite its main engine for 50 minutes in order to achieve deceleration and place itself into a highly elliptical orbit around the planet. Most of its 570 kg of onboard propellant will be used for this manoeuvre. The spacecraft's solar arrays will be positioned so as to reduce the possibility of excessive mechanical load during engine ignition. Over the subsequent days, a series of additional burns will be done to lower the orbit apocentre and to control the pericentre. The aim is to end up in a 24-hour orbit around Venus early in May.
The Venus Orbit Injection operations can be followed live at ESA establishments, with ESOC acting as focal point of interest (see attached programme). In all establishments, ESA specialists will be on hand for interviews.
ESA TV will cover this event live from ESOC in Darmstadt. The live transmission will be carried free-to-air. For broadcasters, complete details of the various satellite feeds are listed at http://television.esa.int.