The long-awaited campaign on Venus of the Japanese spacecraft is finally ready to start.
The Japanese probe Akatsuki was originally supposed to arrive on Venus in December 2010, but the engine failure caused the spacecraft to miss its target and retire into orbit around the Sun. But last December, the Akatsuki developers managed to send the ship back to Venus, and now the probe is ready to begin scientific operations.
“Akatsuki performs test observations by including one after the other on-board observation instruments,” representatives of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) wrote in an update on Friday (April 1).
“The tools are starting up normally, and we have already made successful observations that are equivalent to minimal success,” they added. “Thus, we will move to regular operations in mid-April.”
The Akatsuki spacecraft (valued at $ 300 million), whose name in Japanese means “Breaking Dawn”, was designed to study the Venus cloud, weather and atmosphere from close range using six different instruments. Observations of the probe should help scientists better understand how Venus, which resembles the Earth (only with the age of billions of years ago), warmed up so much, and seemed to be inhospitable for life, said JAXA representatives. The original plan envisaged Akatsuki approaching the orbit of Venus every 30 hours, for a maximum distance (apocenter) of about 50,000 miles (80,000 km). But the second attempt plans to place the probe into the 13-day orbit of Venus, which distributes Akatsuki to a distance of 273,000 miles (4,400,000 km) from the surface of the planet, representatives of JAXA said.
Over the past few months, Akatsuki plans to reach a less elliptical orbit. JAXA scientists state that their goal is to place the probe in the nine days of the orbit of the apocenter, which is about 193,000 miles (310000 km). And this needs to be done by the time regular operations begin.
Akatsuki still needs to be able to accomplish most of its original scientific goals from such an orbit, JAXA said. The spacecraft was launched in May 2010 along with the JAXA Ikaros probe, which became the first spacecraft to deploy and use a solar sail in interplanetary space.