Saved Japanese Probe Gets Final Chance to Orbit Venus

AKATSUKI illustration
Illustration of AKATSUKI by Akihiro Ikeshita. (Image credit: JAXA)

In December 2010, Japan's Venus Climate Orbiter spacecraft "Akatsuki" (aka Planet-C), after five and a half months traveling through space, failed to enter orbit around Venus due to a faulty thruster nozzle. Lacking the ability to reduce its velocity Akatsuki sailed right past the cloud-covered planet, eventually entering orbit around the sun. Shortly afterward JAXA mission engineers were able to determine the cause of the problem and develop work-arounds for a second attempt at orbit insertion.

Now, five years later, that second — and final — chance will arrive on Monday, Dec. 7.

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If successful, Akatsuki will collect data on Venus' atmosphere from within an eight-to-nine-day-long elliptical orbit. The mission was originally planned to last at least two years at Venus; at this point the duration will depend on the life of the spacecraft's batteries.

Image of a crescent Venus captured by AKATSUKI two days after passing Venus in Dec. 2010. (Image credit: JAXA)


After some firings of Akatsuki's orbit maneuver engine (OME) it was determined that, although that particular engine is no longer up to the task, the reactor control system (RCS) thruster should be able to get the spacecraft into Venus orbit — especially now that it's a bit lighter due to the discarding of unnecessary OME fuel.

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According to the JAXA site Akatsuki is in good condition and has completed several orbital maneuvers earlier in the year in preparation for the Dec. 7 attempt. Confirmation of entering orbit will be known a few days later.

Now that ESA's Venus Express is gone, having dived into the planet's dense atmosphere after the completion of its mission, Akatsuki could soon be our only operating spacecraft in orbit around Venus.

Learn more about the AKATSUKI/Planet-C mission here.

Source: JAXA

Originally published on Discovery News.

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