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Venus Probe Set for November Launch

October 31, 2005

MOSCOW — Russian space officials Monday set a Nov. 9 blastoff for a European probe to explore Venus after its earlier launch was postponed because of a booster rocket problem.

Engineers will be able to fix the flaws by that date, the Federal Space Agency said in scheduling the launch at the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The European Space Agency’s Venus Express probe was originally set to be launched Oct. 26 by a Soyuz-Fregat rocket, but a problem arose with thermal insulation in its upper stage.

Despite the delay, the launch will fit into the one-month window during which the celestial motion of the planets makes a voyage to Venus the most fuel-efficient.

Venus Express, which is set to enter orbit around the planet in April and begin its scientific mission in July, carries a set of instruments to study the thick and mysterious atmosphere of Venus. Scientists hope that the mission will help provide clues about the features, status and evolution of the entire planet.

The ESA said its investment in Venus Express amounts to about $265 million, covering development of the spacecraft, launch and operations.

The delay in the Venus Express launch followed the loss of another European space vehicle earlier this month and other recent mishaps that have made this month one of the most troublesome periods in the recent history of Russia’s space program.

The ESA’s CryoSat satellite was lost Oct. 8 due to the failure of a Russian Rokot booster, dealing a major blow to the ESA, which had hoped to conduct a three-year mapping of Earth’s polar ice caps and provide more reliable data for the study of global warming.

Also this month, space experts failed to recover an experimental space vehicle after its return, engineers lost contact with an earlier launched Russian Earth-monitoring satellite and a new optical research satellite was lost due to a booster failure.

The mishaps hurt the reputation of the Russian Space Agency, which depends on revenue from commercial launches of foreign satellites to complement meager state funding.




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