Japan awaits Akatsuki probe

By Daniele Pestilli on December 7, 2010
Akatsuki probe in space. Original rendition by Akihiro Ikeshita

The Japanese satellite Akatsuki, launched May 21st 2010, was intended to go into Venus' orbit on Monday to study the planet's atmosphere and surface. However, as it traveled around the sister planet, it lost contact with earth.

It is still not clear whether the probe can be recovered or not at this point. It is currently in “Safe-Hold Mode,” which allows the apparatus to transmit information regarding its location at low speed. Akatsuki automatically activates this emergency mode to restore its stability, and uses its solar panel to independently generate energy.

Although coming back in contact with the satellite here on earth will take some time, Akatsuki will use its low-gain antenna to communicate new information regarding its location. The space probe, Hayabusa, returned to earth earlier this year also in “Safe-Hold Mode,” bringing back grains of dust from a small near-Earth asteroid.

Data analysis thus far suggests that Akatsuki is not broken. It will be confirmed whether the satellite successfully entered Venus' orbit or not on the morning of December 8th, Yomiuri News reported.

Akatsuki is Japan's first satellite to orbit Venus. Although Russian and American satellites have also reached Venus, their atmospheric data of the planet is limited.

The satellite's development and launch cost approximately $300 million.