The Tech Herald

Akatsuki weather probe hurtles onward after missing Venus

by Steven Mostyn - Dec 8 2010, 15:03

Hit the brakes! Image: JAXA.

Japan’s ambitious space program has suffered something of a gut punch this week after a scientific probe it launched towards Venus earlier in the year failed to establish an orbit around the baking-hot planet.

According to a statement issued by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the Akatsuki probe was unable to establish an orbit despite having fired its engines during a scheduled insertion burn at around 7:00 a.m. EST on Monday.

Further to that, having taken six months to reach its destination after launching on May 20, the failed spacecraft has now overshot Venus and doesn’t have enough fuel to swing back and try again.

“We have found that the orbiter was not injected into the planned orbit as a result of orbit estimation,” JAXA explained on Wednesday morning. “JAXA has set up an investigation team led by the ISAS Director [Institute for Space and Astronautical Science] within JAXA to study the cause of the failure.”

Although it would appear the probe is lost, AFP has reported that mission controllers are looking into whether it will be possible for Akatsuki to achieve an orbit when the probe returns to Venus in seven years.

Had it completed the orbital insertion process, the $300 million USD probe would have studied the clouds and weather patterns of Venus for several years.

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