The Magellan spacecraft is mapping some of the last uncharted regions of Venus, resuming its picture-taking mission after its transmitter was shut off for seven weeks.
Next week, the spacecraft will swoop closer to the planet so it can measure Venusian gravity to help scientists understand the planet's internal structure.If the spacecraft continues to work properly through Sunday, it will have mapped 99 percent of Venus' landscape, far more than its official goal, which was 70 percent to 90 percent, said Doug Griffith, project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Scientists "are ecstatic," Griffith said Tuesday.
One of Magellan's two transmitters broke down in January. The other transmitter was plagued by heat-related "noise" that interfered with its ability to send pictures of Venus back to Earth.
So NASA turned off the transmitter July 15, when Magellan already had mapped 97.5 percent of Venus. The shutdown was intended to make sure the transmitter would still be able to work when Magellan flew over yet-unmapped regions of Venus' southern hemisphere this month.
Griffith said mapping resumed Thursday after engineers raised the transmitter's temperature to a level that minimized "noise" and allowed pictures to be sent to Earth.