The Akatsuki probe, launched last May on a mission by the Japanese space agency JAXA, has failed to enter orbit around Venus. Akatsuki’s planned mission, to study the clouds and atmospheric dynamics of Venus, therefore cannot proceed as planned. The spacecraft is, however, still alive and communicating, and will, in its present orbit around the Sun, again approach Venus six years from now. JAXA has begun a study of the feasibility of injecting Akatsuki into Venus orbit at that time. Since the mission was designed for an operational lifetime of only two years, this “Plan B” must be regarded as a long-shot.
Ironically, NASA had recently announced the formation of a team of American scientists to work with JAXA on the interpretation of the Venus data expected to be acquired starting today.
The difficulties with this ambitious mission, following on the heels of the 1998 loss of JAXA’s Nozomi Mars mission and the disappointment of the Hayabusa asteroid sample return mission launched in 2003, are a big problem for JAXA. Their tradition of highly sophisticated, relatively low-cost missions is seriously undercut by the apparent failure of Akatsuki, a $300 million investment.