The engineers controlling the Akatsuki spacecraft steered once more the tiny probe into Venusian orbit on Sunday night. They now wait for a confirmation that Akatsuki is safe and on orbit to be released in two days.
The tiny probe made a similar attempt five years ago, but a failure in the main engine that was supposed to change its trajectory to orbit planet Venus made the probe soar past the planet out into space.
Back then, Akatsuki mission team members explained that the craft’s fuel valve suddenly ceased to function, thus leading to an increase in the temperature inside the engine.
Engineers weren’t able to tell from hundreds of millions of miles away how bad the damage was, but they believe that there were some structural damages. The engine was automatically shut down by an emergency system before damages went beyond repairs.
Yet, the Japanese couldn’t abort the mission so easily and let the state-of-the-art scientific equipment on board of the small probe go to waste. They came up with the idea to try a second approach, despite the main engine being inoperable.
Since they still had the maneuvering thrusters at hand they planned a second and final attempt. In the meantime they had to steer the probe in order to not get too close to the Sun or be fried by solar radiation. On Sunday night, Akatsuki came close enough to the planet for the team to try one last orbital insertion.
At 6:51 pm ET, the probe was closer to Venus than the moon is to our planet, so the team fired the maneuvering thrusters to slip the robotic craft into orbit around the Morning Star. The move lasted 20 minutes, and was supposed to put Akatsuki into an orbit that is at a higher altitude than the initial one.
Engineers explained that that in their second chance they had two shots. If the first firing of maneuvering jets failed during the 20-minute burn, they would wait for the probe to flip around, so that they can use a second set of thrusters to push it into orbit.
If the mission is successful, Akatsuki would continue European Space Agency’s Venus Express’ legacy to study the hot planet. ESA’s spacecraft reached its end of life in 2014 and was allowed to crush into the scorching planet’s surface.
The Japanese probe, which is equipped with five high-resolution cameras, was designed to keep an eye on Venus’ weather system.
Image Source: Wikimedia
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