Troubled Akatsuki Venus Probe May Get Earlier Redemption

A Japanese spacecraft that overshot Venus last month may get a chance to redeem itself one year earlier than scientists had originally thought.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is now considering trying to send the Akatsuki spacecraft into orbit around Venus five years from now.

Previously, JAXA officials had said a second try could be attempted sometime between December 2016 and January 2017 after Akatsuki missed its Venus arrival. An earlier attempt to swing back on course would be welcome news for the Akatsuki spacecraft and mission team.

Lost Venus spacecraft

The $300 million Akatsuki spacecraft — whose name means "dawn" in Japanese — got within 342 miles (550 kilometers) of Venus the night of Dec. 6, after more than six months of interplanetary travel. It began firing its thrusters in an orbital-insertion burn, a maneuver designed to slow the craft enough to allow the planet’s gravity snag it.

The thrusters were supposed to fire for 12 minutes, but they conked out after only 2 1/2 minutes, JAXA officials have said. An unexpected pressure drop in the spacecraft’s fuel line — or possibly damage to the probe’s engine nozzle — are the likely causes, they added.

As a result, the Akatsuki probe sailed right past Venus, scuttling its mission to study the planet’s hellish climate and weather in unprecedented detail.

Read the rest of the story: Troubled Japanese Venus Probe May Get Early Shot at Redemption.

JAXA giving NASA a run for the money on a shoe-string budget

JAXA’s mission are far more ambitious than its budget would suggest.

The agency has no manned missions and operated on 339 billion yen (four billion dollars) this fiscal year — less than one-tenth of the NASA budget, and less than half the annual cost of Europe’s space programme.

Space officials are now fighting back against any further government belt tightening as they plan a follow-up probe to Hayabusa in 2014, which would explore an asteroid named 1999JU3.

JAXA says it hopes its probe would find "organic or hydrated materials" on the asteroid, and to find out whether "there is any relation to life on Earth".

The science and technology minister, Yoshiaki Takagi, last month vowed that "we will strive to secure the budget so that we can offer maximum support" for the Hayabusa-2 project.

His ministry has requested a 100-fold boost to the research budget for Hayabusa-2 to some three billion yen next year.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan sounded sympathetic when he said last month that Japan "must be committed" to space projects.

In future the space agency may take on an even more ambitious task.

An expert panel advising the minister for space development has called for sending a wheeled robot to the Moon in five years — having first considered a two-legged humanoid, which was rejected because of the Moon’s bumpy surface.

It envisions building the first lunar base by 2020, which could be staffed by advanced robots, as a key stepping stone for Japan’s space exploration, a field where Asian competition is heating up.

"It is extremely important to probe the Moon… as we now see the dawn of ‘the Age of Great Voyages’ in the solar system," the panel said, pointing out that "China, India and other countries are aiming to probe the Moon."

The government’s Strategic Headquarters for Space Policy believes a successful space programme does much to lift Japan’s profile on Earth.

"Our country’s space technology, its achievements and human resources are truly diplomatic resources that would boost our influence and position in the international community," it said in a policy report.

"We will promote them as a source of our soft power."

via Japan’s low-cost space programme pushes the limits.

What happened to Japan’s Akatsuki Venus probe?

A Japanese probe that failed to enter orbit around Venus Monday night (Dec. 6) may have been damaged by an impacting object, according to news reports.

Alternately, a problem with the spacecraft’s engine nozzle could also be to blame for the probe’s wayward journey.

The Akatsuki spacecraft, whose name means "dawn" in Japanese, is currently speeding away from Venus after failing to insert into the hellishly hot planet’s orbit. But the probe will come close enough to make another attempt in late 2016 or early 2017, and officials with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said they hope to try again.

"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 officials said in a statement.

Engines conked out

After more than six months of interplanetary travel, the $300 million Akatsuki spacecraftgot to within 342 miles (550 kilometers) of Venus Monday night. At 6:49 p.m. EST (2349 GMT), the probe began firing its thrusters in an orbital-insertion burn, which should have slowed the craft enough to let Venus’ gravity snag it.

After initiation of the burn, a communications blackout — caused when Akatsuki swung behind Venus — grew from the expected 22 minutes to more than 1 1/2 hours, suggesting that something had gone awry.

While JAXA scientists managed to re-establish contact with the probe, they announced Dec. 8 that Akatsuki had failed to enter Venus orbit. JAXA officials said that the thrusters failed to fire for long enough, burning for only two to three minutes instead of the expected 12, Japan’s English-languageMainichi Daily News newspaper reported.

Akatsuki went into safe mode — a sort of standby state that allows craft to weather various technical glitches — which shut down the engines, according to an article in the journal Nature. JAXA officials have determined that Akatsuki started spinning before going into safe mode, suggesting the probe may have been hit by some object or had a problem with its engine nozzle, Nature reports.

Akatsuki doesn’t have enough fuel to slam on the brakes and reverse course now, so it will continue on its long, looping path around the sun. It should come close enough to Venus to try another orbital-insertion burn in December 2016 or January 2017, JAXA officials said.

The probe should be able to survive until then, scientists said. Akatsuki was designed to operate for at least two years in Venus orbit, but its batteries can last for longer than that, and the spacecraft still has most of its fuel left. But JAXA officials are concerned that it could sustain heat or radiation damage on its trip around the sun, the Mainichi Daily News reported.

Akatsuki was the second robotic Japanese probe ever sent to visit another planet. Japan’s first planetary mission, the Nozomi orbiter sent to Mars, also failed to enter orbit in late 2003.

Read the rest of the story: Did something just smack into Japan’s Akatsuki Venus probe?.

Japan’s Akatsuki probe reached Venus, preparing to orbit

A Japanese probe reached Venus on Tuesday and prepared to enter orbit on a two-year mission that would mark a major milestone for Japan’s space program and could shed light on the climate of Earth’s mysterious neighbor.

The probe, called Akatsuki, which means "dawn," would be the first Japan has ever placed into orbit around another planet and comes after the country recently brought a probe back from a trip to an asteroid.

Other space programs, including the Americans’ and the Europeans’, have successfully launched missions to orbit other planets.

Scientists said they briefly lost contact with the probe early Tuesday. They encountered new communication problems later in the day and were not able to confirm if it was successful.

Agency spokesman Tsutomu Yoshioka said it would take several more hours than expected to determine the probe’s status.

Japan has been overshadowed in recent years by the big strides of China, which has put astronauts in space twice since 2003 and was the third country to send a human into orbit after Russia and the United States,

However, Japan has long been one of the world’s leading space-faring nations. It was the first Asian country to put a satellite in orbit around the Earth — in 1970 — and has developed a highly reliable booster rocket in its H-2 series.

Read the rest of the story:Japan probe reaches Venus, prepares to enter orbit.

Lost in Space – Student Mini-Satellites go missing

The locations of three of four mini satellites developed by Japanese students and launched by a rocket carrying a planetary probe last week are unknown, aerospace development committee officials at the science ministry said Wednesday.

Only students at Soka University have continued receiving radio signals from its satellite, Negai, since it was delivered into space Friday along with the Venus probe Akatsuki and the other three satellites produced by universities and technical college students.

Kagoshima University received signals shortly after the launch but was unable to confirm whether they came from its KSAT satellite. The university has had no contact with the satellite since then.

Read the rest of the story: Locations of mini satellites made by students unknown in space

Crescent Earth Images sent back by Akatsuki, the first Japanese planetary probe

Akatsuki, the first Japanese planetary probe designed to travel to Venus to examine its climate, sent back images of the Earth on Friday, when its three cameras were tested, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said Sunday.

Two of the images, which captured the infrared and ultraviolet rays radiated by the sun and reflected by the Earth, show a crescent Earth as they captured part of the planet in darkness.

Another photo, which captures infrared rays beamed from the Earth’s surface and atmosphere at a different wavelength shows the entire planet clearly, including the Antarctic, where temperatures are lower.

The images were taken around 8:50 p.m. on Friday, about 250,000 kilometers from the Earth and roughly 14 hours after a rocket carrying the space probe lifted off from Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture, when its camera functions were being tested, according to Masato Nakamura, JAXA’s project manager.

That is roughly equivalent to about two-thirds the distance between the Earth and the moon, which are about 380,000 km apart.

Read the rest of the story: Images taken by Venus probe Akatsuki show crescent Earth