The movie below is based on actual images snapped by the Venus Monitoring Camera over a period of 18 hours during one of the spacecraft’s 24-hour orbits around the planet, 7–8 January 2012. It was compiled using public data from the Venus Express data archive. It gives a very good idea of what it would be like to ‘ride on top of Venus Express’ (if you could!) during one complete orbit, dipping to as low as 250 km above the surface.
In the video, we join the spacecraft from a staggering 66 000 km above the south pole, staring down into the swirling south polar vortex. From this bird’s-eye view, half of the planet is in darkness, the ‘terminator’ marking the dividing line between the day and night sides of the planet. Intricate features on smaller and smaller scales are revealed as Venus Express dives to just 250 km above the north pole and clouds flood the field of view, before regaining a global perspective as it climbs away from the north pole (access full article and video).
Now consider that this month’s aerobraking campaign will take VEX to as low as just 130 km, and you can imagine how low this actually is! Here is the animation (an artist’s impression, but substantially correct – and much slower than the speeded-up real one above) of an aerobraking pass: