The latest update from ESA is reproduced below:
An artist's impression of the first firing test of the Venus Express spacecraft main engine,
being performed in space during the night of 16/17 February 2006. The burn started at
01:27 CET and lasted about three seconds.
31 March 2006
PR 12-2006. After its five-month, 400-million-kilometre journey inside our Solar System following its lift-off on 9 November 2005, ESA’s Venus Express spacecraft will finally arrive on 11 April at its destination: planet Venus.
Venus Express mission controllers at the ESA Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, are making intensive preparations for orbit insertion.
This comprises a series of telecommands, engine burns and manoeuvres designed to slow the spacecraft down from a velocity of 29000 km per hour relative to Venus, just before the first burn, to an entry velocity some 15% slower, allowing the spacecraft to be captured into orbit around the planet.
The spacecraft will have to ignite its main engine for 50 minutes in order to achieve deceleration and place itself into a highly elliptical orbit around the planet. Most of its 570 kg of onboard propellant will be used for this manoeuvre. The spacecraft’s solar arrays will be positioned so as to reduce the possibility of excessive mechanical load during engine ignition.
Over the subsequent days, a series of additional burns will be done to lower the orbit apocentre and to control the pericentre. The aim is to end up in a 24-hour orbit around Venus early in May.
ESA TV will cover this event live from ESOC in Darmstadt. The live transmission will be carried free-to-air. For broadcasters, complete details of the various satellite feeds are listed at http://television.esa.int.
The event will be covered on the web at venus.esa.int. The website will feature regular updates, including video coverage of the press conference and podcast from the control room at ESA’s Space Operations Centre.
Source: ESA - News