"It is only by carrying out daring operations like these that we can gain new insights, not only about usually inaccessible regions of the planet's atmosphere, but also how the spacecraft and its components respond to such a hostile environment," said Patrick Martin, Venus Express mission manager.
VIDEO: A Brilliant Planetary Alignment
It's a risky maneuver, but at this point there's not much to lose. The spacecraft will soon have run out of the fuel necessary to maintain its elliptical orbit anyway.
If it survives its summer plunge, Venus Express could be brought back up to a higher orbit to perform more observations, at least until the last of its fuel is spent. Either way, a dramatic end is near for a successful mission full of discoveries and insights into the true nature of Earth's pressure-cooked "sister world."
"Venus Express has penetrated deeper into the mysteries of this veiled planet than anyone ever dreamed, and will no doubt continue to surprise us down to the last minute," said Håkan Svedhem, ESA's Venus Express project scientist.
Learn more about the spacecraft and its mission here.
Photo: Visualization of Venus Express aerobraking in Venus' upper atmosphere. Credit: ESA/C.Carreau