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Space Exploration

Vega Space Program

composition of Venus, Giotto spacecraft, carbon dioxide ice, Sakigake, Suisei

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Vega (space program), two robot spacecraft that the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) launched in 1984 toward the planet Venus and Halley’s Comet. The twin Vega spacecraft were each designed to fly past Venus and drop off a lander and a balloon, then fly past Halley's Comet during the comet’s passage through the inner solar system. Vega was an international effort—the spacecraft carried instruments from the USSR, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, the former East and West Germany, France, Poland, the former Czechoslovakia, and the United States. The Vega probes were the first of a fleet of Halley’s Comet probes, including Giotto from the European Space Agency, Suisei and Sakigake from Japan, and International Comet Explorer (ICE) from the United States.

Scientific Results

Vega contributed to knowledge about Venus’s atmosphere and surface, as well as Halley’s Comet. The Vega balloons confirmed the existence of high-speed winds in Venus's atmosphere, but did not return any data about the lightning that scientists expected to find in the atmosphere. The Vega 2 lander made new measurements of the composition of Venus's crust; Venus’s surface composition is similar to that of the basalt that lines the ocean floors of Earth. At Halley's Comet, Vega 1 and Vega 2 helped pinpoint the nucleus's location for the Giotto spacecraft, which flew within 610 km (379 mi) of the comet on March 14, 1986. Spectrometers detected water and carbon dioxide ice mixed with organic molecules in the dust around the nucleus. The Vega spacecraft instruments revealed that the comet’s nucleus was peanut-shaped and very dark.

Contributors

Portree, David S. F., B.A., M.S.

Freelance writer and space historian. Author of "Walking to Olympus: An EVA Chronology".



Article key phrases:

composition of Venus, Giotto spacecraft, carbon dioxide ice, Sakigake, Suisei, Giotto, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, organic molecules, European Space Agency, Halley, Spectrometers, basalt, Czechoslovakia, ICE, USSR, lander, nucleus, space program, West Germany, Comet, crust, passage, lightning, dust, Bulgaria, atmosphere, Austria, Hungary, Poland, scientists, instruments, France, Japan, United States, knowledge, water, March, East, location, data

 
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