JAXA Test Fires Engine on Wayward Venus Orbiter

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As part of its preparations to eventually coax the wayward Akatsuki probe into orbit around Venus, flight controllers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) test fired the Venus Climate Orbiter’s engine.

JAXA said Sept. 7 that the two-second ignition test conducted that day was a success and clears the way for a longer test firing in mid-September.

Launched in May 2010 by an H-2A rocket from JAXA’s Tanegashima Space Center, the 500-kilogram Akatsuki probe was supposed to have entered orbit around Venus in December but overshot the planet. JAXA blamed the botched orbital insertion on a damaged thruster nozzle.

With the success of the two-second test JAXA  plans to attempt a 20-second burn Sept. 14 as part of an attempt to see if it can re-establish the orbiter’s attitude control. If this test succeeds, and the functions of other systems are confirmed, JAXA will attempt to put the $300 million Akatsuki probe into Venus orbit when it approaches the planet again in December 2015, the agency said.