A Japanese space probe has hurtled past Venus after failing to enter the planet’s orbit as planned, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said yesterday, but it voiced hope for a successful rendezvous six years from now.
The Akatsuki (Dawn) probe blasted off in May on a US$300 million mission to observe the toxic atmosphere and super-hot volcanic surface of Venus.
However, in a setback for Japan’s space program, the box-shaped golden probe failed to enter the planet’s gravitational pull and shot past it, JAXA said.
“It will come close to Venus again in roughly six years, giving us another opportunity,” said JAXA spokesman Hitoshi Soeno, who said that ground control in Sagamihara near Tokyo was still in command of the probe.
Masato Nakamura, the chief developer of Akatsuki, said a second attempt was “highly doable,” the Jiji Press news agency reported.
The Akatsuki, also called the Planet-C Venus Climate Orbiter, was sent on a mission to orbit and observe Venus for two years, working closely 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 for active volcanoes.
Scientists believe that investigating the climate of Venus would deepen their understanding of the formation of the Earth’s environment and its future.
“We started the maneuver to put the Venus probe Akatsuki into orbit around Venus at 8:49am on Dec. 7 ... but have confirmed that we could not put it into the orbit,” JAXA said in a statement.
The exact cause of the failure was not officially determined yet, but one possible explanation was that the probe did not slow down enough near Venus to be pulled in by the planet’s gravity, Soeno said.