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Venus Express

Europe’s Venus Express spacecraft has been orbiting Venus since April 2006 to probe its atmosphere and detect any signs of volcanic and seismic activity. The data it has sent back in recent years are now giving planetologists a clearer picture of a planet that, until now, has remained poorly understood.

Although close to Earth, Venus is a planet shrouded in mystery. To get behind the veil of its thick atmosphere, the Venus Express spacecraft was launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) in November 2005 and entered orbit around the planet in April 2006. Its mission is to analyse the planet’s atmosphere to determine its composition and dynamics, and to look for signs of volcanic or even seismic activity. These measurements could ultimately tell us why Venus, where surface temperatures are a scorching 460°C, turned out so different to Earth. Venus Express has obtained a number of important results, for example detecting sulphur dioxide in the upper atmosphere, the reason for the layer of sulphuric acid clouds blanketing Venus, and confirming the existence of a double cloud vortex above its southern pole.

Venus Express is carrying 7 instruments, among them VIRTIS (Visible and InfraRed Thermal Imaging Spectrometer), SPICAV (SPectroscopy for the Investigation of the Characteristics of the Atmosphere of Venus) and Aspera-4 (Analyzer of Space Plasmas and Energetic Atoms), developed respectively by the LESIA (Laboratoire d’Études Spatiales et d’Instrumentation en Astrophysique) in Meudon, the LATMOS (Laboratoire Atmosphères, Milieux, Observations Spatiales) in Guyancourt and the IRAP (Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie) in Toulouse. CNES provided support to theses laboratories during development of the instruments and is also accompanying them throughout the data-collection phase.