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Magellan Mission at a Glance


Mission Summary

The Magellan spacecraft, named after the sixteenth-century Portuguese explorer whose expedition first circumnavigated the Earth, was launched May 4, 1989, and arrived at Venus on August 10, 1990. Magellan's solid rocket motor placed it into a near-polar elliptical orbit around the planet. During the first 8-month mapping cycle around Venus, Magellan collected radar images of 84 percent of the planet's surface, with resolution 10 times better than that of the earlier Soviet Venera 15 and 16 missions. Altimetry and radiometry data also measured the surface topography and electrical characteristics.

During the extended mission, two further mapping cycles from May 15, 1991 to September 14, 1992 brought mapping coverage to 98% of the planet, with a resolution of approximately 100m.

Precision radio tracking of the spacecraft will measure Venus' gravitational field to show the planet's internal mass distribution and the forces which have created the surface features. Magellan's data will permit the first global geological understanding of Venus, the planet most like Earth in our solar system.


A global view of Venus made from a mosaic of radar imagery from the Magellan spacecraft. This computer-generated globe shows the planet from above the equator at 180 degrees longitude. It shows the coverage of Venus during Magellan's highly successful first mapping cycle, completed in 1991. Magellan continues to gather data that will influence our understanding of terrestrial planets for years to come.


Distance from Sun: 1.1 x 10^8 km
Orbit Period: 225 Earth days
Radius: 6051 km
Rotational Period (sidereal): 243 Earth days 
Average Density: 5.24 g/cm3
Surface Gravity: 0.907 times that of Earth (8.87 m/s2)
Surface Temperature: 850 F (730 K)
Surface Atmospheric Pressure: 90 times that of Earth (90 +- 2 bar)
Atmospheric Composition: 
    Carbon dioxide (96%); nitrogen (3+%); trace 
    amounts of sulfur dioxide, water vapor, carbon 
    monoxide, argon, helium, neon, hydrogen chloride, 
    hydrogen fluoride

Major Mission Characteristics

Interplanetary Cruise: May 4, 1989, to August 10, 1990
First Mapping Cycle: September 15, 1990 to May 15, 1991
Orbit Period: 3.25 hours
Orbit Inclination: 86 degrees
Radar Mapping Per Orbit: 37.2 minutes
Planetary Radar Mapping Coverage: 98%
Planetary Gravity Data Coverage: 95%
Extended Mission: September 15, 1991
Cycle 2: Image the south pole region and gaps from Cycle 1
Cycle 3: Fill remaining gaps and collect stereo imagery
Cycle 4: Measure Venus' gravitational field
Cycle 5: Aerobraking to circular orbit and global gravity measurements
Cycle 6: Collect high-resolution gravity data an conduct radio science experiments
Windmill Experiment: Observe behavior of molecules in upper atsmosphere. 
Termination Experiment: October 11, 1994

Mission Objectives

Magellan Team

NASA/Solar System Exploration Division


Principal Investigators

System Contractors

Key Spacecraft Characteristics

Key Radar Characteristics


Sample Magellan SAR data in false color showing surface of Venus

Key Scientific Results

Study of the Magellan high-resolution global images is providing evidence to understand the role of impacts, volcanism, and tectonism in the formation of Venusian surface structures.

The surface of Venus is mostly covered by volcanic materials. Volcanic surface features, such as vast lava plains, fields of small lava domes, and large shield volcanoes are common.

There are few impact craters on Venus, suggesting that the surface is, in general, geologically young - less than 800 million years old.

The presence of lava channels over 6,000 kilometers long suggests river-like flows of extremely low-viscosity lava that probably erupted at a high rate.

Large pancake-shaped volcanic domes suggest the presence of a type of lava produced by extensive evolution of crustal rocks.

The typical signs of terrestrial plate tectonics - continental drift and basin floor spreading - are not in evidence on Venus. The planet's tectonics is dominated by a system of global rift zones and numerous broad, low domical structures called coronae, produced by the upwelling and subsidence of magma from the mantle.

Although Venus has a dense atmosphere, the surface reveals no evidence of substantial wind erosion, and only evidence of limited wind transport of dust and sand. This contrasts with Mars, where there is a thin atmosphere, but substantial evidence of wind erosion and transport of dust and sand.


Sample Magellan SAR data showing surface features

For More Information on Data

Photographic images, digital data CD-ROMs and display software, and videotapes showing computer-generated flights over Venus are available to researchers, educators, and the public through the National Space Science Data Center, Goddard Space Flight Center, Mail Code 633, Greenbelt, MD 20771, (301) 286-6695, Fax: (301) 286-1771.

Detailed catalog information is available to researchers funded by NASA's Solar System Exploration Division through the Planetary Data System, Geosciences Node, Earth and Planetary Remote Sensing Laboratory, Washington University St. Louis, MO 63130-4899, (314) 935-5493, Fax: (314) 935-7361, e-mail:


Sample Magellan SAR data showing surface features

Photographic imagery, CD-ROMs, and videotapes are available for browsing at NASA's 15 Regional Planetary Image Facilities.

Teachers can obtain information about Magellan, including copies of the videotapes, through NASA's Teacher Resource Centers.

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