Japanese probe Akatsuki
A Japanese space probe on a £190 million mission to orbit Venus has missed the planet completely – but could be more successful when it next passes by in six years’ time, scientists said.
The “Akatsuki”, or “Dawn”, was launched in May with the brief of observing Venus’s toxic atmosphere and volcanic surface.
But rather than entering the planet’s gravitational pull the golden box-shaped probe shot past it, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said.
Emphasising that ground control near Tokyo was still in control of the craft, JAXA spokesman Hitoshi Soeno said: “It will come close to Venus again in roughly six years, giving us another opportunity.”
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 intended to orbit and observe Venus for two years, in collaboration 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 active volcanoes.
Venus is similar in size and age to Earth but has a far more hostile climate, with temperatures reaching 460C (860F) and large amounts of carbon dioxide.
Scientists believe that investigating the climate of Venus would deepen their understanding of the formation of the Earth’s environment and its future.
JAXA said on Tuesday morning that the probe had slowed down in an attempt to enter the planet’s gravitational field but also admitted communication problems, and the following day they announced the mission had failed.
The cause of the failure has not been confirmed but one suggestion was that the probe did not slow down enough near Venus to be pulled in by the planet’s gravity, Mr Soeno said.
Yoshito Sengoku, a spokesman for the Japanese government, said the failure was “very regrettable” but that the government would “like to continue watching Akatsuki’s situation.”
The project has so far cost Japan about 24.4 billion yen (£185 million).
JAXA was forced to abandon an attempt to put a probe into orbit around Mars 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 journey 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 return home three years behind schedule.