Venus Express being prepared for launch (again!)
Venus Express being mated with the upper stage of a Soyuz-Fregat launch vehicle CREDIT: ESA
Venus Express, originally due to launch tomorrow, was delayed due to contamination discovered in the upper stage fairing of the Soyuz-Fregat launch vehicle while it was undergoing final integration last Friday. The rocket's upper stage assembly was removed and taken to the upper composite integration facility at the Baikonor cosmodrome where the engineers have inspected the fairing and the spacecraft to assess the extent of the contamination. ESA's press release says that there were particles of the upper stage insulation loose inside the upper stage. This could have caused problems for the spacecraft's optics (amongst other things) so have to be removed before launch. This is being done with tweezers and vacuum cleaners before the craft's electrical systems are tested and the upper stage is reassembled. With any luck, Venus Express should be ready for launch by the end of the week. The launch window will be open until November 24th so there is a bit of spare time. Some missions have very narrow launch windows in order to place the satellite in just the right orbit or on exactly the correct trajectory, this one is quite large so this delay will not mean major changes to the mission.