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Japanese spacecraft misses target, fails to orbit Venus

You know what they say, if you spend $300 million to shoot a research vessel to Venus and completely miss the planet, try try again. Japan’s Akatsuki spacecraft has missed its opportunity to enter orbit around Venus and won’t be able to try again for six years, says the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

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The 1,000 Lb. probe attempted to enter orbit Monday by firing its main engine, but after struggling, it failed to latch onto the planet. Akatsuki was supposed to fire its engines at 6:49 p.m. EST Monday for about 12 minutes in an attempt to slow the probe down enough to be pulled into orbit by Venus’s gravity, but shortly after the spacecraft’s thrusters ignited it passed behind Venus, blocking communication for nearly 90 minutes, far longer than the 22 minutes of outage scientists expected. When communication was regained, they discovered it had not entered orbit.

The spacecraft has been rocketing toward Venus since its launch from the Tenegashima Space Center on May 20. The orbiting craft’s two year mission was to collect data on the planet’s atmosphere and runaway greenhouse effect. It also has sensors that can detect active volcanoes and hunt for lightning storms. Venus’s atmosphere is made up of carbon dioxide, clouds of sulfuric acid, and 225 mph winds. Because of the greenhouse effect of the CO2, the planet’s surface reaches temperatures of almost 900 degrees Fahrenheit. These are a few of the odd things about Venus Japanese scientists hoped to study.

“Although Venus is believed to have formed under similar conditions to Earth, it is a completely different world from our planet, with extremely high temperatures due to the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide and a super-rotating atmosphere blanketed by thick clouds of sulfuric acid,” said Takeshi Imamura, Akatsuki’s project scientist (Spaceflight Now).

Akatsuki is Japan’s second failure to enter a planet’s orbit. In 1999 and 2003, the country’s Nozomi robotic orbiter missed its opportunities to enter orbit around Mars. Akatsuki will have one final chance at entering orbit when it is in position again in about six years.

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