Akatsuki has entered Venus’ orbit
(Mirror Daily, United States) – On its second try, Japan’s orbiter has successfully entered Venus’ orbit after half a decade of idling through space. It exceeded all expectations, and it was all thanks to the ingenuity of Japanese engineers. They managed to fix a problem and save an orbiter that seemed lost.
Back in 2010, Akatsuki (meaning “dawn”) was blasted off into space by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The purpose was to learn more about the under-explored and mysterious Venus. The second planet from the Sun has remained unfortunately neglected, with its strong winds and high temperatures.
However, upon their first attempt at approaching, JAXA’s Akatsuki failed due to a main engine malfunction. It went past Venus and it was left orbiting around the Sun. According to JAXA, communications were still intact with the lost orbiter, but they could do nothing more for the time being. It took 5 years to redirect its path back to Venus. By then, they feared that the orbiter had suffered too severe damage.
It was never made to withstand the hot temperatures of the Sun or even function in outer space for that long. Regardless, it did.
The Japanese engineers managed to make use of four other thrusters to direct it back on its intended path. According to JAXA, they knew immediately that their plan worked to place it back on the proper course. However, it remained to be seen if Akatsuki would succeed the first part of its mission or fail hopelessly as it did before. It was the second and final attempt. If it had failed, the Japanese would’ve placed their $205 million mission to rest.
However, on Wednesday, December 9th, JAXA was glad to announce that Akatsuki successfully slipped into Venus’ orbit. It’s “functioning properly” and it’s ready to start the “initial observation for three months”. Officially, it will shift to full observation in April. It’s expected that we will be given ample more information about the second planet from the Sun, it’s vicious winds, wild clouds, and high temperatures.
Akatsuki has now embarked on its original 2 year-long mission of observation. This is after withstanding extreme conditions, far exceeding initial expectations. The orbiter was supposed to spend only 6 months travelling toward Venus, not 5 years. Due to the incredible adjustments made by the Japanese engineers, their mistake was fixed, and the orbiter is back on its track, albeit later than planned.
However, Akatsuki has understandably seen to some damage. Only three out of the five tools used to observe Venus are working perfectly, with absolutely no degradation noted. But, due to its prolonged exposure to the Sun, the orbiter is now at a higher temperature than it should be. Because to this unfortunate consequence, it cannot venture as close to Venus as JAXA first intended.
It will have to capture information from between 192,000 and 211,000 miles away from the hot planet. That is a higher altitude than originally planned. However, the orbiter has already surpassed expectations and has become the first Japanese space probe to ever enter the orbit of a foreign planet.
Image source: universetoday.com