Japanese Probe Getting Second Shot at Orbiting Venus

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Exactly five years to the day after Japan’s Akatsuki spacecraft sped past Venus without entering orbit, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will try again Dec. 7 to put the probe into orbit around the second planet from the sun, JAXA announced Feb. 6.

Planning for Akatsuki’s second shot at orbital insertion began shortly after the probe’s failed Dec. 7, 2010 attempt. Officials ultimately blamed a balky valve for causing the probe’s main engine to overheat and shut down about two minutes into a planned 12-minute burn.

Under the revised mission plan JAXA unveiled Feb. 6, Akatsuki will rely on its attitude control thrusters to maneuver into a higher orbit than originally planned, circling the planet every eight to nine days instead of every 30 hours

The elliptical orbit will give the 500-kilogram probe two different views of Venus: a whole-planet view that will give scientists a better understanding of its clouds, deep atmosphere and surface conditions; and a close-up view expected “to clarify cloud convection, the distribution of minute undulatory motions and their changes,” JAXA said.

Akatsuki conducted three orbital maneuvers in 2011 to set up this second shot at completing its science mission.