Venus Express: Mission Diary

Venus Express was successfully launched on the morning of the 9th november of 2005. Here you can find an informal diary of the mission. A more formal diary of the mission can be found here. It is the first ESA mission to Venus and it uses a large part of the technology developed for the ESA missions Mars Express and Rosseta. It will study the atmosphere, surface and space environment of Venus. Onboard the spacecraft there are 9 different instruments including VIRTIS (Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer), in which data analysis our team participates.

See the latest news over the Venus Express Mission in the ESA portal: ESA description of the VENUS Express Mission

You can quickly navigate this diary from the following links:

Later Diary entries


  • 9th november 2005: Venus Express was successfully launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

    You can also download the VEX Launchment video (Quick Time movie).

    On route to Venus

  • 9 Dec 2005: Venus Express is now on route to unveil the planet's misteries. First reports from ESA indicate that the spacecraft is operating flawlessly. Some calibration observations and tests of the instruments will be done over this phase.

    Venus Express obtained this calibration image from the Earth and Moon System using its VIRTIS-M instrument. (See more).

    This is an scheme of the Venus Express transit orbit. The full transit orbit takes Venus Express from Earth to Venus accross 400 million kms in 155 days.

    Orbit Insertion:

  • 11 April 2006 - 7 May 2006: Hopefully the Venus Spacecraft will insert into Venus' orbit after a space maneuver that will bring the spacecraft to its operational orbit. The orbit insertion phase begins on April 15th and ends on May 6th. After that date the spacecraft will glide through a polar orbit over 486 days (2 venusian years) providing new data on the atmosphere, surface and space environment of Venus.

    The 11th of April at 09:17 CEST Venus Express started its main engine burn to slow down the spacecraft. The maneuever was performed flawlessly. Still there are some problems related with the PFS instrument that ESA is trying to solve before the main orbit is attained.

    First Observations:

  • 13 April 2006: The 13th of April ESA released the first observations of Venus obtained by Venus Express.

    A still far away view of Venus' South Polar Region. See a small report and details of these observations.

    Final orbit achieved

  • 9 May 2006: Venus Express has reached its final orbit. The orbit now is a highly excentric ellipse that ranges between 66.000 and 250 kilometers with its pericentre (the closest approach to the planet) located above the North Pole and its apocenter (its most distant point to the planet) over the Venus South Pole. To reach this orbit the spacecraft has travelled around Venus shorting its initial capture orbit 16 times. VEX takes 24 hours to travel one full orbit around the planet. Now the spacecraft instruments will be tested one by one until the nominal science phase begins on 4 June 2006.

    First science results

  • 12 July 2005: First science results were released by ESA showing observations of the Venus Monitoring Camera and VIRTIS. Researchers plan to use this data to study the cloud motions and the nature of the double polar vortex seen in VIRTIS data. The polar vortex appears here in the image on the left as seen by the VIRTIS instrument observing at a wavelength of about 5.05 microns. Remarkably enough other past spacecrafts could observe a similar vortex in the northern hemisphere. More information about the North Venus polar vortex can be found at a webpage of Venus researchers at Oxford.

  • Launchment anniversary

  • 9 November 2006: The first year from the launchment of the VEX spaceship has been fullfilled and VEX continues its mission around Venus discovering the misteries of this cloudy and veiled planet.

    Different scientific results have been presented in several international meetings over the months of october and september. VEX data talks about a world heated by a runaway green-house effect with extended and dense vertical clouds that move fastly rotating around the planet, with possible lightning and a surface veiled by the atmosphere and difficult to observe. The image on the right shows us details of the deep clouds of Venus as observed in infrared light during the night, something only possible due to the high temperature of the inner atmosphere and the sensitivity of the VIRTIS instrument onboard VEX. Our research team is specially interested in studying the deep dynamics observed in these clouds and by the question of how these deep dynamics translate into the upper clouds motions observed with reflected light from the Sun.

  • Venus Express sees the surface of Venus

  • 14 December 2006: The Virtis instrument onboard VEX observes the surface of the planet.

    Observing the surface is not at all simple in a planet with an atmosphere 90 times denser than the Earth and permanently covered by multiple layers of clouds along 20 km in the atmosphere. The way to observe the surface is through the infrared radiation coming from the hot surface. The low areas on the surface are warmer and emit more radiation than the material on the mountains. In this way the surface of Venus can be monitorized and looked for changes with respect to the surface observed by Radar from Magalhaes, a previous NASA mission to Venus. Changes in time in the surface would strongly hint to volcanoes active on the present Venus but none of them has been found so far. The observations were taken by night when no sunlight reflected in the upper clouds could mask the radiation coming from the surface. See also this webpage:

    DLR Portal: Hot stuff on Venus! Looking on the hell-like surface of Earth's twin

  • Venus and the Moon

  • 20 January 2007:

    After a long period in which observing Venus from the Earth has been difficult Venus brights strongly in these winter nights being on the sky more time after sunset. The night of 20 January 2007 an interesting situation occurred. The Moon, almost a new Moon was close to Venus which was the brightest object on the night sky with a visual magnitude of -3.9. This approach between the Moon and Venus went to an occultation of Venus by the Moon observable from regions in South Africa. The 21 May 2004 a similar occultation of Venus was visible from large portions of the Earth. The image on the left was acquired on that day.

    Information and pictures about the May 2004 occultation.
    Information over the January 2007 occultation.

  • Venus Express Mission Extended

  • 27 February 2007:

    The European Space Agency has decided to extend the orbital operation of both Mars Express and Venus Express. In the second case this implies extending the observation of Venus till May 2009 which will allow to count with a greater temporal sample of observations to study aspects such as atmospheric variability and meteorology as well as new kind of observations that will help to uncover the secrets of our sister planet.

    More information in the ESA press release.

  • Venus' atmospheric turbulence

  • 3 April 2007:

    The clouds of Venus track the motions of a turbulent atmosphere with winds as high as 110 m/s at the Equator. The image on the left was released by the European Space Agency today and shows four views of the middle clouds of Venus as recorded by the VIRTIS instrument in the infrared and in the night-side of the planet. The clouds are full of structure and are very much different from Earth's clouds. What causes this turbulent behaviour? Is the solar insolation, the interaction with the surface or the particularities of a planet that rotates200 less rapidly than the Earth? Observations like this will serve to characterize this and other aspects of Venus' atmospheric dynamics.

    The latest ESA Press release provides details about these observations.

  • One year in orbit

  • 11 April 2007:

    After one year of continous observations of Venus Venus Express continues its exploration of the planet. The lower atmosphere can be characterized observing in the infrared the outflow of thermal radiation from the warm lower atmosphere, the upper atmosphere is observed by reflected light in the clouds in the visible and the ultraviolet. The upper atmosphere, at the levels corresponding with the mesosphere on the Earth, has no clouds. However it can be "visually" observed through airglow phenomena associated with particular molecules. The most intense of these airglows is the molecular oxygen airglow. The image on the left shows VIRTIS observations of oxygen airglow which is displayed on the figure as a tenuous "ghost-like" cloud in blue. Venus Express observations of these phenomena help to understand the chemistry of the upper atmosphere and its dynamics.

    As sketched on the left figure the oxygen airglow is produced by newly formed molecules from oxygen atoms liberated at day-side by ultraviolet radiation from the Sun as the lower pictures displays.

    The ESA press release contains more information about oxygen airglow and the Venus Express aniversary.

  • Venus Express films the South Polar Region

  • 7 May 2007: Infrared movies of the South Polar Region

    This infrared movie of Venus was obtained by the VIRTIS instrument onboard Venus Express at infrared wavelengths. Both day side and night-side images are built together in this movie by using solar reflected light at long wavelengths (3.8 microns) and thermal emission of the planet at shorter wavelengths (1.7 microns).

    The movie show the dynamics of the South Polar vortex which is a very dynamic structure changing its shape in the 8 hours seen in the movie or from one orbit to the other. This particular movie shows the cloud structures after processing the images to get information of the small scale cloud structure. You can access another nice movie without the sharp procesing in the ESA website.

    Venus Express and Messenger explore together Venus

  • 5 June 2007:

    The NASA Messenger spacecraft is the first orbiter to be sent to Mercury. On its way to the innemorst planet it has passed twice close to Venus. These kind of flyb-bys are common when sending spacecrafts to the Outer planets or to Mercury since the gravitational interaction with the planet can be used to adjust the trajectory of the spacecraft in what is known as gravitational assist.

    The 2nd Venus fly-by was made the 5th of June of 2007 and was extremely close to the clouded planet with a closest approach of 313 km and at equatorial latitudes. The different instruments onboard Messenger have been active on this fly-by as well as those of the Venus Express orbiter providing the first joint exploration of Venus by two spacecrafts at the same time. At the same time Earth-based observatories and telescopes in orbit around Earth were also watching. The variety of observations at the same time will produce a unique set of data to analyze the structure of Venus' atmosphere and surface. Today, Venus scientist from all over the world wait ansiously for the retrieval of the data from the spacecrafts radio antennas.

    More information on the ESA website about the Messenger and VEX
    More updated information here: Venusian rendezvous results: chapter one.

    500 days of observations

  • 1 October 2007:

    On 3 September 2007 Venus Express completed 500 days of observations of Venus. While early results have already been published, some of the first detailed analyses are now being completed and will soon be published in scientific journals. The meteorology of the planet is highly variable and turbulence seems to play a significant role on its dynamics with cloud structures changing from day to day. Amont the characteristic features of the Venusian atmosphere is the South polar double vortex which has also been seen to change it shape over the course of the mission.
    ESA press release here

    Later Diary entries

    Webpage created: 09/11/2005. Last update: 09/06/2007.