AMSTERDAM — The first European mission to Venus moved into orbit around Earth's 'twin planet' on Tuesday after a five-month and 400 million kilometre journey.
Scientists hope the Venus Express, designed at the European Space Agency (ESA), will help explain global warming. Venus, the second planet from the Sun, is sometimes described as Earth's twin but its dense atmosphere is governed by a runaway greenhouse effect that makes it uninhabitable.
Venus Express has equipment that should, for the first time, make it possible for scientists to peer though the thick noxious clouds shrouding Venus.The Soviet Venera7, the first man-made object to return data after landingon another planet, reported in 1970 surface temperatures onVenus of 475 Centigrade (890 Fahrenheit) and pressures 90 times greater than on Earth.
Before it can start adding to our knowledge of the Venusian atmosphere, Venus Express had to get into the right orbit around the planet.
It seemed to rise to this challenge on Tuesday morning after a complex manoeuvre. The main engine had to fire for approximately 50 minutes to slow the craft and there was little ESA's mission control in Darmstadt, Germany could have done if the mechanism on board failed to work as planned.
Failing to enter the correct orbit could have finished the mission before it had even begun.
Dr Andrew Coates, from University College London's Mullard space science laboratory, was cautiously optimistic shortly after 9am that the Venus Express had survived the first hurdle. "I am euphoric. But we still have to wait for the final confirmation the probe has survived intact.
Scientists around the world are anxious to examine the data Venus Express will hopefully send back during its mission that is scheduled to last two Venusian days, the equivalent of 486 days on Earth.
The first mission to Venus in 10 years costs EUR 140 million. It took off aboard a Russian Soyuz-Fregat from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 9 November 2005.
The European Space Agency compromises space agencies and other organisations from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.