Venus Express has now orbited Earth’s twin for 500 Earth days, completing as many orbits. While the satellite maintains steady and excellent performance, the planet continues to surprise and amaze us.
In spite of experiencing a challenging environment, Venus Express is in an excellent condition. It receives four times the amount of solar radiation as compared to its sister spacecraft, Mars Express, but modifications to the spacecraft design have worked just as intended and operation has been very stable.
Many different activities transpire on board with each orbit: instruments are switched on and off, they change modes and targets and the spacecraft checks out and monitors its subsystems more or less continuously. The few anomalies that occurred were quickly resolved by vigilant spacecraft controllers.
An impressive amount of data - about 1 Terabits, or one million million bits - has been transmitted to Earth over the first 500 days.
Håkan Svedhem, Venus Express Project Scientist says, "The scientists analysing the data have a challenging but exciting task ahead.” They will have to archive the data and extract the most important detail from this immense collection of images, spectra and profiles of temperature, pressure and chemical composition.
Some of the first detailed analyses are now being completed and will soon be published in acclaimed scientific journals. Among many other findings that have surprised scientists, Venus’ atmosphere seems extremely fickle. Recent observations with the Visible and Near-Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIRTIS), the atmospheric structure changes quite rapidly, from day to day.
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