Launch Date Slips for Europe's First Venus Probe
Artist’s impression of the Venus Express orbit insertion burn (the firing of its engine to slow down enough to be captured by the gravity of Venus and enter orbit).
Credit: Credits: ESA/AOES Medialab.

The launch of Europe's first Venus probe has been delayed after pad workers found signs of contamination atop the spacecraft's Russian-built rocket, the European Space Agency (ESA) said Friday.

Originally set to launch on Oct. 26, the Venus Express spacecraft will be pushed back "several days" while pad workers remove the probe from its fairing during a series of checks and inspections, ESA officials said in a statement.

The mission has a launch window that extends through November 24, they added.

Built for ESA by France's EADS Astrium, Venus Express is set to ride a Soyuz rocket equipped with Fregat upper stage into space in a launch to be staged from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The launch will begin a more than five-month spaceflight to the second planet in the Solar System.

Insulation reportedly contaminated Venus Express prompting its removal from the fairing and clean-up operations, according to a BBC News report. The contamination came either from the spacecraft's protective fairing, which shields it during launch, or the Fregat engine stage designed to propel the probe toward Venus, the report added.

Researchers hope Venus Express will shed new light on Venus' constantly cloudy atmosphere, as well as determine whether the planet is currently seismically or volcanically active, ESA officials said. The spacecraft will carry seven primary instruments to study the planet.

The last spacecraft dedicated to taking a close look at Venus was NASA's Magellan probe, which mapped the planet for about four years after arriving in orbit in 1990.

Venus Express is the latest swiftly-built spacecraft developed by the ESA to explore an inner solar system planet. Its predecessors - ESA's Rosetta and Mars Express missions - launched in 2004 and 2003 respectively. The Venus probe took less than four years to move from the concept stage to the launch pad, making it the fastest ESA satellite built to date, ESA officials said.