Japan's Spacecraft Reaches Venus, But Did It Miss Its Orbital Path?

By Andrew Moseman | December 7, 2010 5:32 pm

akatsukiJapan’s new spacecraft has reached Venus; that much we know. But today Akatsuki left its creators hanging when it lost contact with home for longer than expected, and Japan’s space agency JAXA is now trying to make sure the $300 million mission reached the orbit they intended for it above the second planet from the sun.

When Akatsuki arrived at Venus and swung around the backside, it was expected to lose contact with Earth for a little over 20 minutes. Instead, it couldn’t reach JAXA for an hour and a half, sending the space scientists scrambling to make sure nothing went awry.

Communications with the probe were eventually resumed, but it’s currently unclear whether Akatsuki successfully entered orbit around Venus. “It is not known which path the probe is following at the moment,” JAXA official Munetaka Ueno told the AFP news agency. “We are making maximum effort to readjust the probe.” [National Geographic]

JAXA blasted Akatsuki into space back in May; it was the same launch the sent the successful Ikaros solar sail on its way. Presuming it reaches the correct orbit, Akatsuki will join forces with the European craft Venus Express already in orbit to study Earth’s hellish sister planet.

One main goal is to see how Venus veered off on such an extreme path, becoming an inhospitable world with thick sulfuric-acid clouds and surface temperatures hot enough to melt lead, JAXA officials have said. “In so many ways, Venus is similar to Earth. It has about the same mass, is approximately the same distance from the sun and is made of the same basic materials,” Akatsuki project scientist Takeshi Imamura said in a statement. “Yet the two worlds ended up so different. We want to know why.” [Space.com]

Akatsuki, however, might be able to confirm something that would make Venus more like the Earth: that the second planet is volcanically active.

Infrared sensitivity can also be used to study surface composition. This is how scientists hope to detect active volcanism. Europe’s Venus Express probe recently found lava flows that could have been younger than 250,000 years old. [BBC News]

Hopefully by later tonight (Tuesday), Japan will know the fate of its craft.

Related Content:
80beats: The Little Space Probe That Could: Hayabusa Brought Home Asteroid Dust
80beats: How Japan’s Success Reinvigorated Solar Sailing—and What Comes Next
80beats: Solar Sail Success: Japanese Craft Powered by the Sun’s Force
80beats: Volcanoes on Venus Could be Alive & Ready to Erupt

Image: JAXA

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space
  • Brian Too

    Crazy thought. Something for the long-term future. Wouldn’t Venus make for a better terraforming candidate than Mars?

    I’ve never understood how Mars was supposed to be made habitable. It lost most of it’s atmosphere long ago; any attempt to rebuild that might work in the short term but would eventually fail for the same reasons, right? Lack of mass, lack of geomagnetic field, whatever.

    Venus has held it’s atmosphere. It needs cleaning and a change in chemistry to be sure. However the atmospheric dynamics seem favourable for a thick atmosphere. One that could be breathable by a plant, animal, or person. At least theoretically.

    Just speculating here.

  • Anthony

    How is Venus, “approximately the same distance from the sun”? Since it is at least a little (~40,000,000 km), wouldn’t that be enough to perhaps spark the runaway greenhouse effect? Of, if not the cause, at least contribute to it?

  • ChH

    I read somewhere that our moon aides in slowly stripping the rarefied upper layers of our atmosphere, and that ours would be thicker without the moon. Anyone know if that has any validity and/or if a large moon orbiting Venus would have a similar effect?

  • http://NadaNada Lee Johnson

    I have read about tera forming Venus is countless scifi books and it all starts with blocking a significant portion of the sun energy reaching Venus. Is this remotely possible. And if it was how come the huge cloud cover doesn’t do the same thing or does it have to done from higher up. (further from the planets surface)
    Just wondering

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