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VENUSIAN HEAT
Japan probe shoots past Venus, may meet again in six years
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Dec 8, 2010


A Japanese space probe has hurtled past Venus after failing to enter the planet's orbit as planned, the space agency said Wednesday, but it voiced hope for a successful rendezvous six years from now.

The "Akatsuki", or "Dawn", blasted off in May on a 300-million-dollar mission to observe the toxic atmosphere and super-hot volcanic surface of Venus, which is sometimes called the Earth's sister planet.

However, in a setback for Japan's space programme, the box-shaped golden probe failed to enter the planet's gravitational pull and shot past it, said the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

"It will come close to Venus again in roughly six years, giving us another opportunity," said JAXA spokesman Hitoshi Soeno, who stressed that ground control in Sagamihara near Tokyo was still in command of the probe.

Masato Nakamura, the chief developer of Akatsuki, said a second attempt was "highly doable", according to the Jiji Press news agency.

The Akatsuki, also called the Planet-C Venus Climate Orbiter, was sent on a mission to orbit and observe Venus for two years, working closely with the European Space Agency's Venus Express.

It is fitted with two paddle-shaped solar panels and five cameras to let it peer through the planet's thick layer of sulphuric acid clouds, and was also due to search for signs of lightning and for active volcanoes.

Venus is similar in size and age to Earth but has a far more hostile climate, scorching at around 460 degrees Celsius (860 degrees Fahrenheit) and with large amounts of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas on Earth.

Scientists believe that investigating the climate of Venus would deepen their understanding of the formation of the Earth's environment and its future.

The Japanese probe on Tuesday morning Japan time reversed its engine thrust to slow down and enter the gravitational field of Venus, said JAXA, which had Tuesday reported communication problems with the probe.

On Wednesday JAXA announced that its mission had failed.

"We started the manoeuvre to put the Venus probe Akatsuki into orbit around Venus at 8:49 am (Tokyo time) on December 7... but have confirmed that we could not put it into the orbit," it said in a statement.

The exact cause of the failure was not officially determined yet but one possible explanation was that the probe did not slow down enough near Venus to be pulled in by the planet's gravity, Soeno said.

Japan's top government spokesman Yoshito Sengoku said "it was very regrettable that the probe did not succeed in entering the orbit around Venus. We'd like to continue watching Akatsuki's situation."

The project has so far cost Japan about 24.4 billion yen (290 million dollars). Akatsuki cost 14.6 billion yen to develop and produce, while its rocket launch cost 9.8 billion yen.

Japan launched a Mars probe in 1998 but JAXA gave up on its attempt to put the probe, called "Nozomi" or "Hope", into the red planet's orbit in 2003 due to technical glitches.

The latest setback came after a landmark mission by "Hayabusa", which became the first-ever space probe to collect asteroid dust during a seven-year odyssey that ended with its return to Earth over the Australian desert in June.

The trip of Hayabusa, or Falcon, had been plagued with technical glitches but it managed to come home three years late.

earlier related report
Japan space probe failed to enter Venus orbit: JAXA
Tokyo (AFP) Dec 8, 2010 - An interplanetary probe intended to go into orbit around Venus has failed in its mission, Japan's space agency said Wednesday, 200 days after it left Earth.

"Akatsuki", or "Dawn", was intended to be the first Japanese satellite to orbit a planet other than Earth.

Officially called the Planet-C Venus Climate Orbiter, the box-shaped golden satellite fitted with two paddle-shaped solar panels had blasted off from a space centre in southern Japan in May.

It reversed its engine to slow down and enter the planet's gravitational field Tuesday, when it temporarily lost contact with ground control, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said.

On Wednesday JAXA announced that its mission had failed -- although it immediately said it was considering another attempt in seven years' time.

"We started the manoeuvre to put the Venus probe Akatsuki into orbit around Venus at 8:49 am (Tokyo time) on December 7... but have confirmed that we could not put it into the orbit," JAXA said in a statement.

JAXA said it had set up a taskforce to investigate the cause of the failure.

Japan launched a Mars probe in 1998 but JAXA gave up on its attempt to put the probe, called "Nozomi" or "Hope", into orbit in 2003 after finding it impossible to overcome technical glitches.

Venus is similar in size and age to Earth but has a far more hostile climate, with temperatures around 460 degrees Celsius (860 degrees Fahrenheit) and large amounts of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas on Earth.

Scientists believe investigating the climate of Venus would help them deepen their understanding of the formation of the Earth's environment and its future.

The Akatsuki was fitted with five cameras to peer through the planet's thick layer of sulphuric acid clouds to monitor the meteorology of Venus, search for possible lightning, and scan its crust for active volcanoes.

Akatsuki was to work closely with the European Space Agency's Venus Express.

earlier related report
Japan's first Venus probe struggling to enter orbit
Tokyo (AFP) Dec 7, 2010 - Japan's first space probe bound for Venus was struggling on Tuesday to enter the planet's orbit, the space agency said.

The Planet-C Venus Climate Orbiter, a box-shaped golden satellite fitted with two paddle-shaped solar panels, blasted off from a space centre in southern Japan in May.

The probe, nicknamed "Akatsuki" or "Dawn", reversed its engine to slow down and enter the planet's gravitational field but lost contact with ground control longer than had been anticipated, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said.

It was presumed to have shifted itself into a "safe hold mode", and was able to communicate only by via one of its three antennae after the blackout ended.

"It is not known which path the probe is following at the moment," JAXA official Munetaka Ueno told reporters at the ground control late Tuesday. "We are making maximum effort to readjust the probe."

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Related Links
Venus Express News and Venusian Science






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