The editor would like to thank space historians Phillip Clark and Junior Miranda for their corrections to this section.
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Above: A unique image of the second Venera-72 spacecraft taken in 2011 by Ralf Vandebergh likely proves that the vehicle's solar panels had not deployed.
Previous chapter: Venera-7
In 1972, the USSR launched its latest pair of probes to explore Venus. The first of two Venera-72 spacecraft within the 3V1 series developed by NPO Lavochkin successfully departed toward the Earth's closest neighbor in the Solar System on March 27. Its sibling followed just four days later, however it was left stranded in Earth orbit as a result of a booster rocket failure.
The Molniya (8K78M) launcher (Manufacturing No. S1500-64) lifted off from Site 31 at a test range near Tyuratam (Baikonur Cosmodrome) on the morning of March 31, 1972, at 07:02:33 Moscow Time (04:02:33 GMT). (537) The launch vehicle carried the 1,184-kilogram V-72 No. 671 spacecraft, (a.k.a. 3V1 or Venera-72 No. 2), which included a main vehicle designed to fly by Venus and a lander designed for a soft-landing on the planet's surface. (202) According to NPO Lavochkin, the spacecraft design and its payloads were identical to those of the Venera-8 probe.
Following nominal operations of the first three stages of the launch vehicle, the space probe and its Block-L (NVL) upper stage reached an initial parking orbit with an altitude of 196 by 215-kilometer and an inclination of 51.78 degrees toward the Equator. The subsequent 243-second engine firing of Block-L was designed to send the spacecraft toward Venus, however it lasted only 125 seconds, leaving its payload in a 205 by 9,805-kilometer orbit with an inclination 52.22 degrees. (185) It was taking the spacecraft 201.4 minutes to make a single revolution around the Earth.
As was customary for failed missions during the Soviet period, the official press identified the launch as Kosmos-482 without details about its real destination.
As many as five objects associated with the Kosmos-482 launch were reportedly tracked in orbit by Western radars, two of which apparently were quickly losing altitude, reentering atmosphere within few days.
Fragments from Kosmos-482 reach Earth
On the night of April 3, 1972, around 1 a.m., multiple observers on the South Island of New Zealand reported seeing flaring objects in the sky. In the next several days, four titanium spheres with a diameter of 380 millimeters and one with a diameter of 250 millimeters were found in various places around the island. After a careful infrared analysis, which revealed markings in Russian language, the debris were linked to the Block-L upper stage of the Kosmos-482 mission. (539) The spherical tanks likely contained pressurized helium gas which was used to pressurize the onboard propellant supply system. However, in response to a formal inquiry, Soviet authorities officially stated that the fragments had not come from the USSR.
At the end of June 1972, some object apparently separated from the spacecraft, which was interpreted as a split between the main spacecraft and its lander. Initially, it was believed that the main spacecraft had reentered on May 5, 1981, (185) while its fragment remained in orbit.
Solving mystery of Kosmos-482
On Aug. 1, 2011, almost four decades after the launch of Kosmos-482, a prominent satellite observer, Ralf Vandebergh, captured remarkably detailed images of the Kosmos-482 spacecraft still orbiting the Earth. He provided the editor of this web site with a preview of the image for interpretation. Anybody familiar with the spacecraft architecture, would immediately recognize the main features of the probe. However interpreting the exact state of the spacecraft was more difficult.
It was logical to assume that a highlighted feature on the photo would be the probe's large communications antenna in deployed position. However, the rectangular rather than circular shape of the feature hints that much more likely it was a folded solar panel. The key to a correct interpretation of the orbital image would be its comparison to photos of the spacecraft during its pre-launch processing, which are very rare. However, two photos in RussianSpaceWeb.com's archive likely showed one of the identical Venera-72 spacecraft.
In combination with orbital views, these documents enable to confirm with a high degree of confidence, that the solar panels onboard Kosmos-482 remained in folded position after it had reached orbit. With less degree of certainty, it can be speculated that the Venus lander is still attached to the main probe while its upper stage is not.
The main communications antenna onboard the probe is likely in the shadow on the opposite side of the spacecraft, however, given the fact, that even the periphery of the antenna is not visible on the photo, it is possible to speculate that it had not deployed either.
Known instruments onboard the V-72, No. 671 spacecraft, according to NPO Lavochkin:
Next chapter: Venera-9
Page author: Anatoly Zak; Last update: December 22, 2011
Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: December 22, 2011
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The Venera 3V1 spacecraft during a pre-launch processing. Note the position of the folded solar panel. Anatoly Zak's archive.
A Molniya rocket climbs to orbit. Anatoly Zak's archive.
The IAV-72 instrument developed at GEOKhI RAN in Moscow was carried onboard the Venera-72 spacecraft to measure ammonia levels in the Venusian atmosphere. Copyright © 2011 Anatoly Zak
One of several gas tanks from Kosmos-482 mission found in New Zealand. Anatoly Zak's archive.