Artist impression of the Akatsuki orbiting Venus.
Image credits: AFP/Akihiko Ikeshita.
Japan’s first Venus space probe encountered problems while attempting orbit insertion and went into safe mode. It took about an hour and a half to regain communications with the probe after a 22 minute blackout with the Akatsuki spacecraft, and controllers seem to still be trying to ascertain the spacecraft’s orbit.
The Planet-C Venus Climate Orbiter, a box-shaped golden satellite fitted with two paddle-shaped solar panels, blasted off from a space centre in southern Japan in May. The probe, nicknamed "Akatsuki" or "Dawn", reversed its engine to slow down and enter the planet's gravitational field but lost contact with ground control longer than had been anticipated, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said.
It was presumed to have shifted itself into a "safe hold mode", and was able to communicate only by via one of its three antennae after the blackout ended.
From translated Twitter reports and a document posted on the JAXA website, it appears engineers confirmed ignition of the thruster before Akatsuki moved behind Venus, but had trouble pinpointing the spacecraft after the blackout should have ended. They have regained some radio communications.
“It is not known which path the probe is following at the moment,” a JAXA official Munetaka Ueno told reporters at the ground control late Tuesday, according to AFP. “We are making maximum effort to readjust the probe.” (read more)