ASI - Agenzia Spaziale Italiana - Mission and Projects ASI - Agenzia Spaziale Italiana - Mission and Projects


Main Theme Formation, differentiation and evolution of the internal planets
Mission Responsibility ESA
Launch Date 9 November 2005
End of Mission May 2009 (extended)
Current phase E2


The Venus Express mission was selected by ESA among various proposals for the reuse of previously developed platforms and instruments for the Mars Express and Rosetta missions. After a journey of around 150 days, it reached Venus on 11 April 2006.  After a series of manoeuvres (guided by the ESA control centre in Darmstadt, Germany) for reducing speed, it entered its definitive orbit on 7 May.


The height of its orbit oscillates between 66,000 and 250 km from the planet's surface and the spacecraft takes 24 hours to complete an orbit. Having seen the excellent results achieved and the potential and perfect functioning of the spacecraft, on 23 February 2007 the SPC unanimously approved the extension of the mission until May 2009 (a further extension until December 2011 has already been requested).


Scientific Objectives
The scientific theme from which Venus Express originated is to search for an answer as to why Venus, even though it has a comparable size, composition and distance from the Sun to the Earth's, had a completely different evolution that caused it to have a totally different atmosphere and conditions on ground, dominated by such a strong greenhouse effect that temperatures reach 750° K. For this reason Venus' exploration can provided information on the evolution of the Solar System in general and therefore also on the Earth.

The Venus Express mission is investigating in detail and globally Venus' atmosphere from the point of view of its composition, its structure and meteorology in general (study of the clouds, winds, temperatures, etc) and the variations owing to the interaction with the surface.  All of these studies will enable understanding of the origin of the greenhouse effect. In particular, we are trying to understand better the role of carbon dioxide and water in its planetary evolution in general and the greenhouse effect in particular. Moreover, the discovery of atmosphere windows in near infrared near the micron enable us to study the atmosphere at various altitudes up to the ground, something that was impossible for cameras in the visible, given the enormous thickness and density of the atmosphere gases (for the most part made up of carbon dioxide) which on the ground reach an air pressure in the order of 200 atm.


Italian Contribution
Italy has contributed to the mission with the PI-ship of two instruments; VIRTIS (Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer, PI Giuseppe Piccioni ASF-INAF of Rome) one imaging spectrometer in the visible/near infrared spectrum, twin of the one in flight on the Rosetta mission, which supplies data relative to the atmosphere, surface and to their interactions, PFS (Planetary Fourier Spectrometer, Vittorio Formisano IFSI-INAF of Rome) for performing vertical scans of the atmosphere, twin of the instrument in flight on  Mars Express. In addition, there has been significant participation in the development of the ASPERA-4 instrument (Analyzer of Space Plasmas and Energetic Atoms) for studying the interaction between the solar wind and the Venusian atmosphere, twin of the one in flight on Mars Express.


International Agreements