Japan's trouble-plagued first mission to Mars is set to be abandoned in the latest of a series of costly failures to hit the country's space development programme, news reports and officials said Monday.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will make a final attempt on Tuesday to remotely repair electronic circuitry on the Nozomi probe damaged by a solar flare last year, which caused the main engine to shut down, officials said.
"We will send a final order to Nozomi to fix short-circuit in the electric system tomorrow," said Ichiro Nakatani, an agency researcher in charge of the mission.
"We still have a thin hope that the system will start up again and Nozomi will be put into orbit around Mars, but I have to say that it is very difficult under the current circumstances," Nakatani said.
Ironically, the craft's name Nozomi means 'hope'.
The Nihon Keizai Shimbun said the chances of success at near zero, and agency will officially announce the abandonment of the mission, worth 20 billion yen (186 million dollars), by late Tuesday.
Nozomi, Japan's first Martian probe, was launched in 1998 with an initial plan to go into orbit around the Red Planet by the summer of 1999.
But the probe experienced a problem with fuel consumption in its first year and its attempt to swing by the Earth's orbit to gain momentum before travelling to Mars failed.
Nozomi was then damaged by an extensive solar flare in April last year, which crippled some communications equipment and devices that manoeuvre the probe.
If the agency gives up on the mission as predicted, it would be the latest failure in the nation's space development programme.
Japan aborted the launch of spy satellites to monitor North Korea shortly after a Japanese H-2A rocket blasted off on November 29.
The agency destroyed both the rocket and satellites as one of the two rocket boosters failed to separate from the fuselage in the second phase.
It was Japan's first launch failure since 1999 when it also destroyed a rocket carrying a satellite in flight.
The latest failure was in sharp contrast to China's success in October in sending a Chinese astronaut into orbit to circle the Earth 14 times in a 21-hour flight.
Last month's satellite launch failure means Japan will be forced to delay the planned launch of another H-2A rocket in February with a satellite to be used for weather observation to conduct further tests on the rocket, observers have said.
The Nihon Keizai said the series of failures may intensify concerns that Japan's space development programme is fundamentally flawed.
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JAXA Issues First Status Report On Mars Explorer Nozomi Problems
Tokyo - Nov 24, 2003
It has been reported that "Nozomi" the Japanese made Mars exploration probe is to collide with Mars. This is not correct. The truth is that "Nozomi" will, if going as it is, approach Mars on December 14 by 894km passing above Martian surface at its closest approach, but there would not be excluded a theoretical possibility of colliding with Mars by more or less one percent, if we take the error of orbit determination into account.
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