AKATSUKI launched to Venus

AkatsukiThe Japanese space agency, JAXA, launches unmanned space probe AKATSUKI, known more formally as the Venus Climate Orbiter. The spacecraft is expected to reach Venus in seven months and take up orbit around that planet, where it will study Venus’ atmosphere in depth. “Akatsuki” translates to “Dawn”, but is referred to by its Japanese name to avoid confusion with NASA’s asteroid-belt-exploring Dawn spacecraft.

Missing Venus

Akatsuki at VenusJapan’s AKATSUKI unmanned space probe fires its thrusters to slow down enough to be captured into an orbit around Venus, a maneuver which will take place mostly in the planet’s shadow, out of communication with Earth. But when ground controllers reacquire communications with AKATSUKI, it is in safe mode, and not in its predicted orbit around Venus. The main orbital engine, damaged by overheating due to salt deposits on a fuel valve, fired for less than three minutes and cannot safely be fired again, leaving AKATSUKI into a solar orbit. Mission planners put AKATSUKI into a hibernation mode to preserve it for another opportunity to orbit Venus in 2015.

AKATSUKI’s second shot at Venus

Akatsuki at VenusJAXA, the Japanese space agency, announces its plans to put the unmanned AKATSUKI space probe into orbit around Venus. Originally launched in 2010, AKATSUKI failed to orbit the planet in December of that year due to a critical engine malfunction and instead fell into an orbit around the sun, but mission planners have devised a strategy to use its attitude control engines to slow it enough to be captured around Venus when it intersects the planet’s orbit again. AKATSUKI, more formally known as the Venus Climate Orbiter, is intended to study the atmosphere and weather of Venus, a mission it will begin in December if it can successfully enter orbit.

AKATSUKI arrives at Venus

Akatsuki at VenusThe Japanese space probe AKATSUKI, launched in 2010 but left in an orbit around the sun by an engine glitch, catches up with its original target, the planet Venus, and fires its attitude control thrusters. The lengthy engine burn slows AKATSUKI enough to be captured by Venus’ gravity, in an elliptical 13-day orbit that brings the probe within 250 miles of the Venusian clouds it was sent to study at its closest, and nearly a quarter million miles away from the planet at the furthest. Another engine burn is planned for March 2016 to circularize and shorten AKATSUKI’s orbit so it can begin its observations of the planet’s weather patterns.