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Magellan mapping Venus.

Magellan mapping Venus

The Magellan spacecraft started mapping the surface of Venus with radar on Sept. 15, about two weeks later than planned. But the mission, due to last 243 days -- or the time it takes Venus to make one rotation about its axis -- got off to a shaky start when Magellan's communications with Earth twice mysteriously shut down.

Since reaching Venus on Aug. 10, Magellan has settled into a stable orbit, now circling the planet every 3.26 hours. It gathers mapping data about eight hours a day. When it's not bouncing radar signals off Venus' surface, the craft turns toward Earth to play back its cartographic measurements and provide engineering data about the state of its health.

During a shakedown phase -- prior to the craft's beginning full-time mapping -- project officials played back to Earch some preliminary radar images and engineering data stores on Magellan's two tape recorders. Researchers are now combing through this complete "data dump" looking for clues to why the craft subsequently twice fell mute. The craft inexplicably lost contact with Earth for nearly 15 hours on Aug. 16 and again for 17 hours on Aug. 21.

With the radar-mapping images starting to emerge, Magellan officials say the mapping is "going well." They acknowledge, however, that they still do not know what caused the two communications problems, and that they cannot rule out another signal loss.

Ultimately, Magellan scientists hope to complete five radar scans of the entire planet -- each time from a slightly different angle. Their goal is to collect enough data to eventually construct three-dimensional stereographic images of the Venusian surface.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Sep 22, 1990
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