back to article Probe uses solar panels to 'surf' Venusian atmosphere

European space boffins are chuffed to announce that they have successfully 'surfed' the atmosphere of Venus, during a so-called 'aerodrag' experiment in which the solar panels of a space probe functioned as aerofoils skimming the top of the second planet's atmosphere. Graphic depicting Venus Express in orbit about the second …


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  1. Lionel Baden
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    boffins are cool :)

    Common how many can say theyve surfed in space !!!

  2. Daedalus

    Not that powerful really

    At the Earth's distance, sunlight is about 1kW per sq. m. At Venus it's about twice that. The solar panels are generating 245 W per sq. m. That's about 12% efficiency.

    1. I didn't do IT.

      12% Efficiency

      ... which was pretty much normal for "flight rated" tech five years ago...

      Course it was boshy. Now, we need to ask IBM to get on it quick with that slurry panel happiness. :)

  3. Anonymous Coward

    Make you think

    How bloody pointless solar panals are. 5.7 sq meters makes enough to boil a kettle around Venus. Most houses would fit 4 times that on the roof at most, without taking in to account that on most houses only one side is viable for solar.

  4. John Smith 19 Gold badge
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    Full marks for getting that into a *relatively* ordinary sentence.

    AFAIK aerobraking has been used by a number of probes to slow down prior to injection into orbits around planets. Mars I think is the most popular target.

    However the process is somewhat hit and miss. Atmospheric density is one of the key parameters you send probes out measure in the first place, and it changes over time (Earth's upper atmosphere can grow *tenfold* due to higher solar activity). Doing a measurement run first means (in principle) future probes can calibrate their degree of braking after the first (light) skimming.

    Thumbs up all round. This could change how *all* future space probes are conducted.

  5. lglethal Silver badge
    Thumb Up


    This could also be a great way to "despin" Reaction Wheels which can be a problem on longer duration flights...

    Mind you i would not have wanted to be the mission controller who authorised this if things had gone wrong... Venus express was not cheap and losing it pulling aerodynamic burnouts on Venus would probably not be a healthy career move!

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge


      "This could also be a great way to "despin" Reaction Wheels which can be a problem on longer duration flights..."

      Without using thruster fuel to do so, *provided* they have a convenient atmosphere to fly through.

  6. Charlie van Becelaere

    Surfing what?

    Perhaps you meant the Venerean atmosphere?

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