Artist's concept of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Akatsuki orbiter approaching Venus (JAXA illustration).

A Japanese spacecraft entered orbit around Venus Sunday, five years after its first attempt to orbit the planet failed. 

The Japanese space agency JAXA said the Akatsuki spacecraft fired its thrusters as planned Sunday and appeared to enter orbit, although they cautioned it will take up to two days to confirm the spacecraft’s orbit.

Akatsuki was originally planned to enter orbit around Venus in December 2010, but its main engine malfunctioned, keeping the spacecraft in an orbit around the sun that brought it back to Venus five years later. [National Geographic]

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A Russian military satellite is considered lost after it failed to separate from the upper stage of the rocket that launched it. A Soyuz-2.1b rocket lifted off Saturday from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, carrying the Kanopus-ST ocean surveillance satellite and a small secondary payload. While the Russian Ministry of Defense originally declared the launch a success, officials later said Kanopus-ST failed to separate from the rocket’s upper stage because one of four locks holding the satellite in place malfunctioned. The satellite and upper stage are expected to reenter in the next several days. [TASS]

A Cygnus cargo spacecraft made it to orbit Sunday on its fourth launch attempt. The Atlas 5 carrying the Cygnus vehicle lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 4:44 p.m. Eastern after launch attempts the three previous days were postponed by poor weather. The Orbital ATK-built spacecraft is in good health in orbit, and is scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station early Wednesday. The spacecraft is carrying more than 3,500 kilograms of cargo for the station, including supplies, spare parts and experiments. [SpaceNews]

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has returned the sharpest images yet of Pluto. The images, released Friday, have a resolution of about 80 meters per pixel and were taken near the time of the spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto during its July flyby. The images show enhanced detail of blocks of ice jammed against a range of mountains. More high-resolution images are expected back from New Horizons in the coming days. []

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A section of a new commercial space law about resource rights is unlikely to be the last word on the issue. A section of the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, signed into law last month, grants U.S. citizens rights to resources they extract from asteroids and other solar system bodies beyond Earth. However, that language has raised questions, particularly among space law experts outside the U.S., about whether that provision would run afoul of the Outer Space Treaty. Companies that lobbied for the language said it should provide them and their investors with certainty about their ability to make use of space resources, but acknowledge more work is needed to convince others the language is consistent with treaties. [SpaceNews]

India’s first astronomy satellite has sent back images from its ultraviolet instrument. The first images from the Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope on the Astrosat spacecraft show that the instrument is performing to expectations, the Indian Space Research Organisation announced. The ultraviolet instrument is the last to be checked out on Astrosat, launched by India in September. [The Times of India]

Russia is seeking public votes on a list of names for its next crewed spacecraft. RSC Energia, which is developing the Crew Transportation Spacecraft, released a list of 10 finalist names Friday: Gagarin, Rodina (Motherland), Zvezda (Star), Leader, Galaxy, Mir, Zodiac, Astra and Vector. People can vote for their preferred name on the Energia website or through a Russian social network. The vote will determine the top three names, from which judges will select one. [TASS]

Astronaut Tim Peake will run a marathon during his upcoming stay on the ISS. The British astronaut will participate in next April’s London Marathon while on the station, running the 26.2 miles on the station’s treadmill. “I don’t think I’ll be setting any personal bests. I’ve set myself a goal of anywhere between 3:30 to 4 hours,” he said. Peake won’t be the first to run a marathon in space: NASA astronaut Suni Williams ran the Boston Marathon while on the station in 2007. [Washingotn Post]

Want to mail a Christmas card to the Mars rovers? It’s going to cost a lot of postage. A five-year-old English boy wrote to the Royal Mail, asking how much it would cost to mail a letter to Mars. The postal service responded, estimating the cost based on the mass of the letter versus the cost of sending the Curiosity rover to Mars. Their estimate: about $18,000. Maybe send the rovers an e-card instead. [AFP]


The Week Ahead



  • Alexandria, Va.: The Defense Strategies Institute holds the Space Resiliency Summit, with military and civil government speakers discussing efforts to defend space assets from threats.





Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...