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Venus Probe Fails To Enter Orbit

December 8, 2010

The Japanese probe that was to have spent two years studying Venus has failed to enter the planet’s orbit and is now being pulled towards the sun, the space agency announced on Wednesday.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) $300 million Planet-C Venus Climate Orbiter, code named ‘Akatsuki’ or ‘Dawn’, had reached Venus earlier this week and was to enter an elliptical orbit around the planet, monitoring its volcanic activity and recording information regarding its cloud cover and climate.

However, according to AFP reporter Miwa Suzuki, the box-shaped probe shot past the planet after struggling to enter its gravitational field. On Tuesday, JAXA officials reported that the Akatsuki had reversed its engines in order to slow down to enter Venus’s gravity, but according to Suzuki, some 24 hours later, they were forced to report that the mission had failed.

“We started the maneuver to put the Venus probe Akatsuki into orbit around Venus at 8:49 am (Tokyo time) on December 7,” JAXA officials said in a statement, according to Suzuki, “but have confirmed that we could not put it into the orbit.”

JAXA spokesman Hitoshi Soeno told the AFP that the agency’s ground control, located in Sagamihara, was still in command of the probe and would likely have a second chance at completing the mission. However, they will have to wait six years to do so–a major blow for the fledgling Japanese space program, which earlier this year saw its ‘Hayabusa’ probe become the first vehicle of its kind to collect asteroid dust and return to Earth with the payload.

“The failure in the crucial orbital insertion stage of the probe was a big letdown for Japan, which has never succeeded in an interplanetary mission but has marked some major successes in space on a relatively tight budget that is focused primarily on small-scale science projects,” Associated Press (AP) writer Eric Talmadge said on Wednesday, adding that the failed mission “disappointed scientists around the world” who had been hoping to study Venus in order to obtain valuable data regarding climate change on Earth.

In a statement, Bill Nye, executive director of the American space exploration group The Planetary Society, said “The Planetary Society regrets that the innovative Akatsuki spacecraft seems to have missed its opportunity to lock into an orbit of Venus. Although Akatsuki has already accomplished some remarkable things on its voyage, this setback reminds us how difficult space exploration can be.”

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