Venus Express May Be Out Of Fuel After Death-Duelling Maneuvers

After more than eight years orbiting a hellish planet, Venus Express is showing its age. The spacecraft made some risky maneuvers this summer, dipping down into the atmosphere as it nears the end of its mission. Now, the European Space Agency reports it has mostly lost contact with the probe. The reason could be lack of fuel.

The “anomaly” started Nov. 28 when the agency’s operations center lost touch with the spacecraft. Since then, ground stations at ESA and NASA have been trying to hail the probe. All they’ve received since then is a little bit of telemetry showing that the spacecraft has it solar panels pointing towards the Sun, and it’s slowly rotating.

Artist’s conception of Venus Express doing an aerobraking maneuver in the atmosphere in 2014. Credit: ESA–C. Carreau

“It is possible that the remaining fuel on board VEX was exhausted,” ESA wrote in a blog post, pointing out that in recent weeks it has been trying to raise the spacecraft’s altitude for more science observations. But with the spacecraft spinning, its high-gain antenna is likely out of contact with Earth and it’s hard to reach it.

“The operations team is currently attempting to downlink the table of critical events that is stored in protected memory on board, which may give details of the sequence of events which occurred over the past few days,” ESA added. “The root cause of the anomaly (fuel situation or otherwise) remains to be established.”

We’ll keep you posted as events arise.

Source: European Space Agency

Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

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