Black and white image of rocks on Venus.

The Soviet Union's Venera 9 lander snapped this photo of Venus during its 53-minute mission on the planet's hellish surface. It is one of the first photos sent back from the surface of another planet. Image Credit: NASA

Goals: Venera 9 was the first of a new, heavier generation Soviet spacecraft. The mission called for an orbiter and a lander. The orbiter was to act as a communications relay and study Venus from above while the lander descended via parachute to study the surface.

Accomplishments: Venera 9 logged several firsts. It was the first spacecraft to orbit Venus and the first mission to transmit photographs from the surface of another world. The orbiter fulfilled its communications mission while photographing the planet's atmosphere in UV light and conducting other investigations. The lander transmitted data from Venus' surface for 53 minutes, including taking a 180° panorama of the rocky Venusian surface. Illumination at the surface was said to be as bright as Moscow on a cloudy day in June. Gamma ray measurements indicated that the probe landed on a basaltic surface. Temperature at the surface was found to be 460 degrees C (860 degrees F); atmospheric pressure was 90 times that of Earth.


Mission Type: Lander, Orbiter
Launch Vehicle: 8K82K + Blok D (Proton-K no. 286-01)
Launch Site: NIIP-5 / launch site 81P, Tyuratam (Baikonur Cosmodrome), USSR
Spacecraft Mass: 4,936 kg at launch; about 2,300 kg at Venus
Spacecraft Instruments: Orbiter:
1) imaging system
2) infrared radiometer
3) ultraviolet imaging spectrometer
4) magnetometer
5) photopolarimeter
6) ion/electron detectors
7) optical spectrometer
Lander:
1) panoramic imaging system
2) thermometer
3) barometer
4) mass spectrometer
5) anemometer
6) photometers
7) nephelometer
8) gamma-ray spectrometer
9) radiation densitometer
10) accelerometers
Spacecraft Power: Solar panels

References:

  • Deep Space Chronicle: A Chronology of Deep Space and Planetary Probes 1958-2000, Monographs in Aerospace History No. 24, by Asif A. Siddiqi
  • National Space Science Data Center, http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/
  • Solar System Log by Andrew Wilson, published 1987 by Jane's Publishing Co. Ltd.

Venera 9 was the first of a new generation of Soviet space probes (4V) designed to explore Venus. Launched by the more powerful Proton launch booster, the new spacecraft were nearly five times heavier than their predecessors.

Each spacecraft comprised both an orbiter and a lander. The 2,300-kilogram orbiters (at Venus orbit insertion) were designed to spend their missions photographing the planet in ultraviolet light and conducting other scientific investigations. The landers, of a completely new design, employed aerodynamic braking during Venusian atmospheric entry and contained a panoramic photometer to take images of the surface.

Without any apparent problems and with two trajectory corrections (on 16 June and 15 October), Venera 9's lander separated from its parent on 20 October 1975, and two days later, it hit Venus's turbulent atmosphere at a speed of 10.7 kilometers per hour.

After using a series of parachutes, the lander set down on the planet's day side at 05:13 UT on 22 October. Landing coordinates were 32° north latitude and 291° longitude at the base of a hill near Beta Regio. During its 53 minutes of transmissions from the surface, Venera 9 took and transmitted the very first picture of the Venusian surface from a height of 90 centimeters.

These were, in fact, the very first photos received of the surface of another planet. The lander was supposed to transmit a full 360° panorama, but because one of the two covers on the camera failed to release, only a 180° panorama was received. Illumination was akin to that of a cloudy day on Earth. The image clearly showed flat rocks strewn around the lander.

The Venera 9 orbiter meanwhile entered a 1,500 x 111,700-kilometer orbit around the planet at 34?10' inclination and acted as a communications relay for the lander. It became the first spacecraft to go into orbit around Venus.

The Soviets announced on 22 March 1976 that the orbiter's primary mission, which included using French-made ultraviolet cameras to obtain photographs in 1,200-kilometer swaths, had been fulfilled.

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