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Despite Balky Sensor, Venus Express Ready for Operations

PARIS - Europe's Venus Express satellite,which entered Venus orbit in April, has cleared its commissioning phase and isready to begin formal operations despite the fact that one of its sevenobserving instruments is not functioning, the European Space Agency (ESA) saidJuly 12.

ThePlanetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS), which encountered problems in May, isstuck in "closed" position despite weeks of efforts to return theinstrument to operations, ESA said.

"[A]series of activities and further in-orbit tests [will] be conducted in the nextmonths, as well as a series of independent investigations, to examine theorigin of the problem," ESA said in a July 12 statement on Venus Express'status. "In the meantime, other instruments will cover some of the PFSobjectives."

The PFS isdesigned to measure Venus' surface and atmospheric temperature. Part of itsmission is to hunt for volcanic activity on the planet.

VenusExpress was launched in November 2005 and entered Venus orbit in April, afterwhich it began adjusting its position to arrive at the highly elliptical orbitin which it will operate. The satellite will view Venus from distances ofbetween 66,000 kilometers and 250 kilometers.

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Charles Q. Choi
Contributing Writer

Charles Q. Choi is a contributing writer for Space.com and Live Science. He covers all things human origins and astronomy as well as physics, animals and general science topics. Charles has a Master of Arts degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, School of Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Florida. Charles has visited every continent on Earth, drinking rancid yak butter tea in Lhasa, snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos and even climbing an iceberg in Antarctica. Visit him at http://www.sciwriter.us