Spacecraft fails to enter Venus orbit

Japan’s Akatsuki probe has failed to go into orbit around Venus as planned, meaning a six-year wait until another attempt can be made.

Japan’s space agency, JAXA, said that the orbit insertion maneuver failed at 8:49 am Japan Standard Time yesterday. It has set up an investigation team led by the ISAS director within JAXA to study the cause of the failure.

“While we set up a new investigation team to study the cause and countermeasures, we will also review the Venus orbit injection plan again to take the next opportunity in six years when the Akatsuki flies closest to Venus,” JAXA says.

Akatsuki was launched from the Tanegashima Space Center using an H-IIA launch vehicle on May 21, 2010, with the aim of gathering more data on the Venusian atmosphere over a two-year mission. JAXA says it could have provided clues to the understanding of the birth of Earth and of its climate changes.

Yesterday’s maneuver should have seen Akatsuki enter an elliptical orbit, 300 to 80,000 km away from Venus’s surface. This variation in distance would have enabled a wider range of observations of the planet’s weather and surface, as well as observations of the atmospheric particles escaping from Venus into space.

It would also have taken close-up photos of Venus and observed the storm winds on the surface, which reach 100 m a second – 60 times the speed at which Venus rotates. This is probably the biggest mystery of Venus, as it can’t be explained meteorologically.