April 21, 2024

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from Sky and Telescope’s article: Akatsuki’s Amazing Views of Venus

Almost everyone considered Japan’s Venus-bound orbiter a lost cause, but Akatsuki survived, reached its objective, and is wowing scientists with results.

Its engine blew up seven years ago, and by all rights the Japanese spacecraft Akatsuki shouldn’t have survived. However, engineers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) refused to give up.

The spacecraft not only survived its deep-space catastrophe, but it’s now safely in orbit around Venus and producing breathtaking images of swirling clouds at multiple levels within the planet’s dense atmosphere that have never been glimpsed before. Scientists from the European Space Agency’s Venus Express spacecraft, which circled the planet from 2006 to 2015, were amazed by newly released Akatsuki images and pronounced them “fabulous.” Two of these appear below.

Akatsuki was supposed to reach Venus and enter orbit on December 6, 2010, using an innovative ceramic thruster. Unfortunately, the crucial engine firing failed in dramatic fashion, when inadequate pressurant flow into the engine caused the thruster temperature to increase until the nozzle cracked. The spacecraft autonomously shut down its broken engine only partway through the intended orbit insertion burn, and it sailed right past Venus.

After determining that the engine wasn’t salvageable, the resourceful team at JAXA vented all the remaining propellant to lighten the spacecraft and developed a brave plan to attempt orbit entry a second time. To make a long and dramatic story short, they succeeded.”  Read even more at the article linked above.

See more cool images of Venus by Damia Bouic HERE

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