Less than one month after insertion into orbit, and after sixteen loops around the planet Venus, ESA’s Venus Express spacecraft has reached its final operational orbit on 7 May 2006.
Already at 21:49 CEST on 6th May, when the spacecraft communicated to Earth through ESA’s ground station at New Norcia (Australia), the Venus Express ground control team at ESA’s European Spacecraft Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt (Germany) received advanced confirmation that final orbit was to be successfully achieved about 18 hours later.
Launched on 9 November 2005, Venus Express arrived to destination on 11 April 2006, after a five-month interplanetary journey to the inner solar system. The initial orbit – or ‘capture orbit’ – was an ellipse ranging from 330 000 kilometres at its furthest point from Venus surface (apocentre) to less than 400 kilometres at its closest (pericentre).
As of the 9-day capture orbit, Venus Express had to perform a series of further manoeuvres to gradually reduce the apocentre and the pericentre altitudes over the planet. This was achieved by means of the spacecraft main engine – which had to be fired twice during this period (on 20 and 23 April 2006) - and through the banks of Venus Express’ thrusters – ignited five times (on 15, 26 and 30 April, 3 and 6 May 2006).
Don McCoy | alfa
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