Launched earlier this year, Japan's Akatsuki spacecraft was supposed to enter equatorial orbit of the planet Venus yesterday, using a combination of specialized cameras to track clouds and watch for Venusian lightning for two years. Whoops.
The Akatsuki was an ambitious project for JAXA, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency. Dubbed the world's first planetary meteorological satellite, the spacecraft would orbit Venus for two years, helping scientists unravel the secrets of the high-speed winds constantly propelling the cloud bed covering the planet's surface. Its data would complement that of the Venus Express, the European Space Agency's satellite that has been in place since 2006.
Alas, it was not to be.
During its orbit injection exercise the craft passed behind the planet, and JAXA lost contact. Once contact was reestablished it was discovered that one of the thrusters had failed to function. Akatsuki had missed its window, and was continuing along a path orbiting the sun.
A press conference was held at NAXA's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), announcing the failure. Project manager Masato Nakamura apologized for not meeting the nation's expectations. He did not look pleased.
NAXA isn't an organization that gives up easily, however. After their Nozomi probe failed to achieve Mars orbit in 2003, they landed it on an asteroid and had it bring back space dust to Earth. There's a chance that Akatsuki can be salvaged as well, as long as there's enough fuel left six years from now when the spacecraft and Venus meet once more.
Japan's Akatsuki Mission Misses Venus [Science Now]