Solar Storm Blinds Venus Spacecraft

The European Space Agency’s Venus Express probe, which is located much closer to

the sun than Earth, experienced high doses of radiation from the recent solar storm, and on Tuesday (March 6) at 8:40 p.m. EST (0140 GMT March 7), spacecraft operators reported that Venus Express’ onboard startracker cameras had become blinded. According to Octavio Camino, the Venus Express spacecraft operation manager at ESA’s European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany after being bombarded by solar radiation Tuesday, the cameras were unable to pick up any stars. The startracker cameras take pictures of the sky and use internal databases to recognize the stars. The Venus Express probe uses this information to measure its position and orientation in space. These cameras are crucial on all spacecraft, but are particularly important for interplanetary probes, since they have to continuously point their solar arrays at the sun and their antennas at the ground. Spacecraft operators have full control of Venus Express but are relying on just the onboard gyroscopes and manual corrections as they attempt to regain the startracker cameras. As said Paolo Ferri, head of ESA’s solar and planetary mission operations Venus Express’ blindness is not expected to be permanent, and as the sun’s activity has waxed and waned, the spacecraft has experienced similar glitches in the past. Still, the cameras have been out of commission for nearly 40 hours now, which is an unusually long time. ESA officials anticipate that this issue could last several days, particularly because the sun shows no signs of quieting down. Eventually, the spacecraft is expected to return to normal operations, but ESA officials will continue to closely monitor the situation and maintain control of the probe. In the meantime, mission controllers have suspended many functions aboard Venus Express until things return to normal.

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