Scientists are putting the finishing touches to a landmark European mission to explore Venus, a planet whose scorching climate could help understand global warming on Earth.
"The launcher is being assembled right now and the final tests are being carried out," said Dmitry Titov, chief scientist with the European Space Agency's Venus Express project.
Titov, speaking to reporters on Tuesday on the sidelines of an international conference of planetary scientists, said a month-long window for launch by a Soyuz Freget rocket, from the Russian space base in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, opened on October 26.
It is expected to arrive at Venus next April after a 153-day hop across space.
The 1.27-tonne spacecraft is a sister to the Mars Express, an orbiter that is now circling the Red Planet.
Built in just three years, Venus Express uses the same design and same industrial teams that built its Martian counterpart.
Venus, the second planet from the Sun, is similar in size and mass to Earth, but the two planets are otherwise quite different.
The so-called Morning Star, the third brightest object in the sky after the Sun and Moon, has clouds of suffocating gas driven by hurricane-force winds, as well as a surface pressure and temperature high enough to crush and melt steel.
Venus is believed to have become victim to a runaway greenhouse effect, in which gases store up heat from the Sun instead of letting it radiate out to space.
Earth is subject to a far lesser climate-changing effect, driven by natural emissions of carbon gases and from man-made pollution, due to the burning of oil, gas and coal.
Venus Express, equipped with seven instruments, is intended to map the planet's surface and weather system, looking at temperature variation, cloud formations, wind speeds and gas composition.
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Venus Express Arrives In Baikonur
Baikonur, Kazakhstan (ESA) Aug 11, 2005
Blazing hot temperatures welcomed ESA's Venus Express spacecraft as it arrived at the Yubileiny airport of the Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, on Sunday morning, 7 August.
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