Venus Express Runs Out of Fuel: 8-Year Mission Ends in Glorious 'Death'


When Venus Express made it to Earth's "sister planet" in April 2006, many scientists did not expect the mission to last long, not even two years. However, the spacecraft somehow exceeded expectations conducting studies and gathering valuable information about the hottest planet in the Solar System far longer than anticipated.

Since its arrival at our neighboring planet, the Venus orbiter, which was launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) in November 2005, had been conducting detailed study of Venus, which shares a number of similarities with Earth such as gravity, size and bulk composition. Data gathered by the spacecraft revealed, among others, that Venus is still possibly geologically active and that there had been plenty of water in its atmosphere.

After eight years, however, and after far exceeding its planned life, the spacecraft's propellant for its propulsion system has ran low marking the end of the mission. ESA revealed that contact with the Venus orbiter was lost on Nov. 28 but prior to that, Venus Express was tasked to make a daring aerobraking maneuver earlier this year in an attempt to reduce altitude enabling the orbiter to explore the previously unchartered regions of the planet's atmosphere.

Scientists were only able to get limited information from the spacecraft after it lost connection late last month. Venus Express mission manager Patrick Martin said that the probe has likely exhausted its remaining fuel.

Without the propellant, it will no longer be possible for Venus Express to maintain communications with Earth. The spacecraft will also eventually sink deeper into the atmosphere culminating more than eight years of gathering data from planet Venus.

Although the spacecraft will be gone soon, the scientists and engineers who were involved with the mission said that they were very pleased with the achievements and success of Venus Express saying that although the data gathering phase of the mission is already over, the observations made by the spacecraft will be used by the scientific community for many years.

"While we are sad that this mission is ended, we are nevertheless happy to reflect on the great success of Venus Express as part of ESA's planetary science program and are confident that its data will remain important legacy for quite some time to come," said ESA Science Operations head Martin Kessler. "The mission has continued for much longer than its planned lifetime and it will now soon go out in a blaze of glory."

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