The Russian Venus Landers


Given the intense temperatures and pressures of Venus, it is indeed impressive that Russian engineers were able to successfully land vehicles there 10 times during the 1970s and 1980s. These were Venera 7 to 14, and Vega 1 and 2 which deployed landers and balloon-born instrument packages.

Although not designed to land, one of the free-falling Pioneer atmosphere probes gets honorable mention by surviving impact and continuing to transmit for a few minutes. The atmosphere of Venus is so thick that terminal velocity was only about 30 mph.

Seen above, the six-foot-tall Venera 9 lander was the first to take pictures of the surface, on October 20, 1975. The Venera orbiter and lander was a 10,000-pound spacecraft, one of the largest unmanned vehicles ever sent into space. Besides the camera system, the Venera landers measured the sky spectrum, atmospheric gases, cloud particles, and performed chemical analysis of surface rocks.

Venera 9 panorama V-9 Venera 10 panorama V-10 Venera 13 panorama V-13-I Venera 13 panorama V-13-II Venera 14 panorama V-14-I Venera 14 panorama V-14-II

Looking out through 1 cm quartz pressure windows, Venera 9 to 14 captured spherical panoramas of 40º by 180º. The cameras used a pivoting mirror and photomultiplier tube, giving remarkably low-noise images which were digitized to 9 bits per pixel. Venera 13 and 14 had two cameras and were able to capture images though clear, red, green and blue filters. So some portions of their panoramas contain color information. Venera 11 and 12 were unable to return pictures because of an equipment failure, but the rest of their experiments were successful.

These images have often been displayed as very poor quality pictures taken off film or even photographed off printed pages of Soviet journals. The images I show here are derived from the digital telemetry by the Russian image processing team. In the case of Venera 9 and 10, I undid a pixel replication and replaced it with a higher quality interpolation filter. For Venera 13 and 14, I combined the chroma signal from the dark somewhat noisy color images with the luminance signal of the clear-filter images.

Venera 13 and 14 survived longer than expected and returned dozens of images, repeating their program of clear and color scans. I hope to process that data into a super resolution image and to recalculate the perceptual color values.

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Copyright 2003 Don P. Mitchell. All rights reserved.