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Contamination delays Venus Express launch

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Mission managers at the European Space Agency have postponed the launch of Venus Express, Europe's first mission to our so-called twin planet. The new launch date has not been announced, but ESA says it will be "several days" late.

The launch was due to take place atop a Soyuz-Fregat launcher this Wednesday (26 October), but during final preparations for the launch, insulation from the rocket launcher was found to have contaminated the satellite, ESA said.

The contamination could have come either from the fairings, which protect the satellite during the launch, or from the upper booster stage of the rocket, the BBC reports.

A spokesperson told the BBC: "The satellite is contaminated, so they will have to dismantle and re-mount it."

If its launch is successful, and its journey to Venus uneventful, Venus Express will slot into a polar orbit around our sister planet some time next spring. The satellite is set to gather data on the Venusian atmosphere so scientists can work out how the conditions on the planet arose.

Although Venus is very similar to Earth in size, its environment could hardly be more different. It has an incredibly thick and acidic atmosphere causing crushing pressures of around 100 Earth atmospheres at the surface, and an ambient temperature of nearly 500C. ®

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