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Vega 1

Vega 1

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Vega 1 is a Soviet space probe
Space probe
A robotic spacecraft is a spacecraft with no humans on board, that is usually under telerobotic control. A robotic spacecraft designed to make scientific research measurements is often called a space probe. Many space missions are more suited to telerobotic rather than crewed operation, due to...

 part of the Vega program
Vega program
The Vega program was a series of Venus missions which also took advantage of the appearance of Comet Halley in 1986. Vega 1 and Vega 2 were unmanned spacecraft launched in a cooperative effort among the Soviet Union and Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, the German Democratic Republic, Poland,...

. The spacecraft was a development of the earlier Venera
The Venera series probes were developed by the Soviet Union between 1961 and 1984 to gather data from Venus, Venera being the Russian name for Venus...

craft. They were designed by Babakin Space Center and constructed as 5VK by Lavochkin
NPO Lavochkin is a Russian aerospace company. It is a major player in the Russian space program, being the developer and manufacturer of the Fregat upper stage, as well as interplanetary probes such as Phobos Grunt...

 at Khimki
Khimki is a city in Moscow Oblast, Russia, situated just northwest of Moscow, at the west bank of the Moscow Canal. Population: 207,125 ; 141,000 ; 106,000 ; 23,000 .-History:...


The craft was powered by twin large solar panels and instruments included an antenna dish, cameras, spectrometer, infrared sounder, magnetometer
A magnetometer is a measuring instrument used to measure the strength or direction of a magnetic field either produced in the laboratory or existing in nature...

s (MISCHA), and plasma probes. The 4,920 kg craft was launched by a Proton 8K82K rocket
Proton rocket
Proton is an expendable launch system used for both commercial and Russian government space launches. The first Proton rocket was launched in 1965 and the launch system is still in use as of 2011, which makes it one of the most successful heavy boosters in the history of spaceflight...

 from Baikonur Cosmodrome
Baikonur Cosmodrome
The Baikonur Cosmodrome , also called Tyuratam, is the world's first and largest operational space launch facility. It is located in the desert steppe of Kazakhstan, about east of the Aral Sea, north of the Syr Darya river, near Tyuratam railway station, at 90 meters above sea level...

, Tyuratam
Tyuratam is a station on the main Moscow to Tashkent railway, located in Kazakhstan. The name is a word in the Kazakh language and means "Töre's grave"; Töre, or more formally, Töre-Baba, was a noble, a descendant of Genghis Khan...

, Kazakh SSR
Kazakh SSR
The Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic , also known as the Kazakh SSR for short, was one of republics that made up the Soviet Union.At in area, it was the second largest constituent republic in the USSR, after the Russian SFSR. Its capital was Alma-Ata . Today it is the independent state of...

. Both Vega 1 and 2 were three-axis stabilized spacecraft. The spacecraft were equipped with a dual bumper shield for dust protection from Halley's comet.

The Venus mission

Vega 1 arrived at Venus on June 11, 1985 delivering a 1500 kg, 240 cm diameter spherical descent unit. The units were released some days before each arrived at Venus and entered the atmosphere without active inclination changes. Each contained a lander and a balloon
A balloon is an inflatable flexible bag filled with a gas, such as helium, hydrogen, nitrous oxide, oxygen, or air. Modern balloons can be made from materials such as rubber, latex, polychloroprene, or a nylon fabric, while some early balloons were made of dried animal bladders, such as the pig...


Descent craft

The landers were identical to that of the previous five Venera
The Venera series probes were developed by the Soviet Union between 1961 and 1984 to gather data from Venus, Venera being the Russian name for Venus...

missions and were to study the atmosphere and surface, each had instruments to study temperature, pressure, a UV spectrometer, a water concentration meter, a gas-phase chromatograph
Gas-liquid chromatography
Gas chromatography , is a common type of chromatography used in analytical chemistry for separating and analysing compounds that can be vaporized without decomposition. Typical uses of GC include testing the purity of a particular substance, or separating the different components of a mixture...

, an X-ray
X-radiation is a form of electromagnetic radiation. X-rays have a wavelength in the range of 0.01 to 10 nanometers, corresponding to frequencies in the range 30 petahertz to 30 exahertz and energies in the range 120 eV to 120 keV. They are shorter in wavelength than UV rays and longer than gamma...

A spectrometer is an instrument used to measure properties of light over a specific portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, typically used in spectroscopic analysis to identify materials. The variable measured is most often the light's intensity but could also, for instance, be the polarization...

, a mass spectrometer and a surface sampling device.

The Vega 1 lander's surface experiments were inadvertently activated at 20 km from the surface by an especially hard wind jolt and so failed to provide results. It landed at in the Mermaid Plain north of Aphrodite Terra
Aphrodite Terra
Aphrodite Terra is a highland region on Venus, near the equator. It is about the same size as Africa, and much rougher than Ishtar Terra.The surface appears buckled and fractured which suggests large compressive forces. There are also numerous extensive lava flows. Channels cross this terrain and...



The Vega 1 Lander/Balloon capsule entered the Venus atmosphere (125 km altitude) at 2:06:10 UT (Earth received time; Moscow time 5:06:10 a.m.) on 11 June 1985 at roughly 11 km/s. At approximately 2:06:25 UT the parachute attached to the landing craft cap opened at an altitude of 64 km. The cap and parachute were released 15 seconds later at 63 km altitude. The balloon package was pulled out of its compartment by parachute 40 seconds later at 61 km altitude, at 8.1 degrees N, 176.9 degrees east. A second parachute opened at an altitude of 55 km, 200 seconds after entry, extracting the furled balloon. The balloon was inflated 100 seconds later at 54 km and the parachute and inflation system were jettisoned. The ballast was jettisoned when the balloon reached roughly 50 km and the balloon floated back to a stable height between 53 and 54 km some 15 to 25 minutes after entry. The mean stable height was 53.6 km, with a pressure of 535 mbar and a temperature of 300-310 K in the middle, most active layer of the Venus three-tiered cloud system. The balloon drifted westward in the zonal wind flow with an average speed of about 69 m/s at nearly constant latitude. The probe crossed the terminator from night to day at 12:20 UT on 12 June after traversing 8500 km. The probe continued to operate in the daytime until the final transmission was received at 00:38 UT on 13 June from 8.1 N, 68.8 E after a total traverse distance of 11,600 km. It is not known how much farther the balloon travelled after the final communication.

The Halley mission

After their encounters, the Vegas' motherships were redirected by Venus' gravity to intercept Halley's Comet.

Images started to be returned on March 4, 1986, and were used to help pinpoint Giotto's close flyby of the comet. The early images from Vega that showed two bright areas on the comet, which were initially interpreted as a double nucleus. The bright areas would later turn out to be two jets emitting from the comet. The images also showed the nucleus to be dark, and the infrared spectrometer readings measured a nucleus temperature of 300 K to 400 K, much warmer than expected for an ice body. The conclusion was that the comet had a thin layer on its surface covering an icy body.

Vega 1 made its closest approach on March 6 at around 8,889 kilometers (at 07:20:06 UT) of the nucleus. It took more than 500 pictures via different filters as it flew through the gas cloud around the coma. Although the spacecraft was battered by dust, none of the instruments were disabled during the encounter.

The data intensive examination of the comet covered only the three hours around closest approach. They were intended to measure the physical parameters of the nucleus, such as dimensions, shape, temperature and surface properties, as well as to study the structure and dynamics of the coma
Coma (cometary)
frame|right|The [[153P/Ikeya-Zhang|comet Ikeya-Zhang]] exhibiting a bright, condensed coma In astronomy, a coma is the nebulous envelope around the nucleus of a comet. It is formed when the comet passes close to the Sun on its highly elliptical orbit; as the comet warms, parts of it sublimate...

, the gas composition close to the nucleus, the dust particles' composition and mass distribution as functions of distance to the nucleus and the cometary-solar wind
Solar wind
The solar wind is a stream of charged particles ejected from the upper atmosphere of the Sun. It mostly consists of electrons and protons with energies usually between 1.5 and 10 keV. The stream of particles varies in temperature and speed over time...


The Vega images showed the nucleus to be about 14 km long with a rotation period of about 53 hours. The dust mass spectrometer detected material similar to the composition of carbonaceous chondrites meteorites
Carbonaceous chondrite
Carbonaceous chondrites or C chondrites are a class of chondritic meteorites comprising at least 7 known groups and many ungrouped meteorites. They include some of the most primitive known meteorites...

 and also detected clathrate ice.

After subsequent imaging sessions on 7 and 8 March 1986, Vega 1 headed out to deep space. In total Vega 1 and Vega 2 returned about 1500 images of Comet Halley. Vega 1 ran out of attitude control propellant on 30 January 1987, and contact with Vega 2 continued until 24 March 1987.

Vega 1 and Vega 2 are currently in heliocentric orbit
Heliocentric orbit
A heliocentric orbit is an orbit around the Sun. All planets, comets, and asteroids in our Solar System are in such orbits, as are many artificial probes and pieces of debris. The moons of planets in the Solar System, by contrast, are not in heliocentric orbits as they orbit their respective planet...


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