The launch of Europe's first mission to Venus, due to have taken place next Wednesday, has been postponed by several days, the European Space Agency (ESA) said on Friday.
Venus Express, designed to monitor the planet's unusual atmosphere, was to have been launched by a Russian Soyuz-Fregat rocket, operated by the company Starsem, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday at 0443 GMT.
ESA said in a press release that "contamination" was detected inside the fairing -- the bullet-shaped hood that covers the payload on the top of the rocket -- in final checks at Baikonur.
It did not give details.
"A new launch date will be announced shortly," the brief statement said.
The 1.27-tonne unmanned orbiter is equipped with seven instruments, is intended to map the Venusian surface and weather system, looking at temperature variation, cloud formations, wind speeds and gas composition.
Its main goal is to help understand why Venus fell prey to runaway global warming.
Venus is the second planet from the Sun. It is similar in size, mass and age to Earth, but the two planets are otherwise quite different.
The so-called Evening Star has clouds of suffocating gas driven by hurricane-force winds, as well as a surface pressure and temperature high enough to crush and melt lead.
Venus Express is a sister to Mars Express, an orbiter that is now circling the Red Planet.
The launch postponement was announced less than two weeks after a disastrous launch involving an ESA satellite and a Russian rocket.
CryoSat, an ice-monitoring satellite costing 140 million euros (170 million dollars), was lost on October 8, after the booster stage failed following liftoff from a base at Plesetsk, northern Russia.
Its carrier was a converted Soviet-era SS-19 ballistic missile, Rockot, operated by Eurockot Launch Services GmbH, a joint venture of EADS SPACE Transportation and Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center.
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Spacecraft To Explore Link Between Venus's Lack Of Magnetism And Inhospitable Atmosphere
London, UK (SPX) Oct 19, 2005
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