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After eight years, the European Space Agency has officially ended the Venus Express mission.
After this month of ‘surfing’ in and out of the atmosphere at low altitudes, the lowest point of the orbit was raised again through a series of 15 small thruster burns, such that by 26 July it was back up to about 460 km, yielding an orbital period of just over 22 hours. The mission then continued in a reduced science phase, as the closest approach of the spacecraft to Venus steadily decreased again naturally under gravity.
Under the assumption that there was some propellant still remaining, a decision was taken to correct this natural decay with a new series of raising manoeuvres during 23–30 November, in an attempt to prolong the mission into 2015. However, full contact with Venus Express was lost on 28 November. Since then the telemetry and telecommand links had been partially re-established, but they were very unstable and only limited information could be retrieved.
The agency has decided that further attempts to contact the spacecraft would essentially be a wasted effort, and has closed the books on this very successful mission. The spacecraft itself will soon burn up in Venus’s atmosphere when its orbit decays.