Akatsuki (spacecraft)

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Mission type Venus orbiter
Operator JAXA
COSPAR ID 2010-020D
Website www.jaxa.jp/projects/sat/planet_c/index_e.html
Mission duration ~2 years
elapsed: 5 years, 6 months and 11 days
Spacecraft properties
Launch mass 517.6 kilograms (1,141 lb)[1]
Power >700 watts at 0.7 AU[1]
Start of mission
Launch date 20 May 2010, 21:58:22 (2010-05-20UTC21:58:22Z) UTC[2]
Rocket H-IIA 202
Launch site Tanegashima Yoshinobu 1
Flyby of Venus (failed insertion)
Closest approach 6 December 2010, 23:49:00 UTC
Venus orbiter
Orbital insertion 7 December 2015

Akatsuki (あかつき, 暁?, literally "dawn"), formerly known as the Venus Climate Orbiter (VCO) and Planet-C, is a Japanese space probe which is intended to explore Venus. It was launched aboard an H-IIA 202 rocket on 20 May 2010.[3]

The total launch mass of the spacecraft including propellant was 517.6 kg (1,141 lb), with scientific instruments accounting for 34 kg (75 lb) of its total weight. The mission reached Venus on 7 December 2010 (JST) but failed to enter orbit around the planet, and thus remains in a heliocentric orbit. It had been intended to conduct scientific research for two or more years from an elliptical orbit around Venus ranging from 300 to 80,000 km (190 to 49,710 mi) in altitude.[1] Scientists plan to place the craft into an alternative elliptical Venerian orbit ranging from 186 to 50,000 mi (299 to 80,467 km) in December 2015.[4]

Akatsuki is Japan's first planetary exploration mission since the Nozomi probe, which was launched in 1998 but failed to go into orbit around Mars in 2003 as was planned.


Akatsuki is a Japanese space mission to the planet Venus. Planned observations include cloud and surface imaging from an orbit around the planet with an infrared camera, which are aimed at investigation of the complex Venerian meteorology. Other experiments are designed to confirm the presence of lightning and to determine whether volcanism occurs currently on Venus.[5]

The budget for this mission is ¥14.6 billion (US$174 million) for the satellite and ¥9.8 billion (US$116 million) for the launch.[6]

Spacecraft design[edit]

The main bus is a 1,450 × 1,040 × 1,440 mm (4.76 × 3.41 × 4.72 ft) box with two solar arrays, each with an area of about 1.4 m2 (15 sq ft). The solar array panels provide over 700 watts (0.94 hp) of power in Venus orbit. The total mass of the spacecraft at launch was 517.6 kg (1,141 lb).[1] The mass of the science payload is 34 kg (75 lb).[7]

Propulsion is provided by a 500-newton (110 lbf) bi-propellant, hydrazine / nitrogen tetroxide orbital maneuvering engine and twelve mono-propellant hydrazine reaction control thrusters, eight with 23 N (5.2 lbf) of thrust and four with 3 N (0.67 lbf). The total propellant mass at launch was 196.3 kg (433 lb).[1]

Communications is via an 8 GHz, 20-watt X-band transponder using the 1.6 m (5 ft 3 in) slot array high-gain dish antenna used for most telemetry data. Akatsuki also has a pair of medium-gain horn antennas mounted on turntables and two low gain antennas for command uplink. The medium-gain horn antennas will be used for housekeeping data downlink when the high-gain antenna is not facing Earth.[1]


The scientific payload consists of six instruments including a Lightning and airglow camera (LAC), an ultraviolet imager (UVI), a longwave infrared camera (LIR), a 1 μm camera (IR1), a 2 μm camera (IR2), and the radio science (RS) experiment. The five imaging cameras will explore Venus in wavelengths from ultraviolet to the mid-infrared.[8]

The LAC will look for lightning in the visible wavelengths of 552 to 777 nanometers. The LIR will study the structure of high-altitude clouds at a wavelength where they emit heat (10 μm). The UVI will study the distribution of specific atmospheric gases such as sulfur dioxide in ultraviolet wavelengths (293–365 nm). The IR1 will peer through semi-transparent windows in Venus' atmosphere to see heat radiation emitted from Venus' surface rocks (0.90–1.01 μm) and will help researchers to spot active volcanoes, if they exist. The IR2 will detect heat radiation emitted from the lower reaches of the atmosphere (1.65—2.32 μm).[8][9]

Public relations[edit]

There was a public relations campaign held between October 2009 and January 2010 by The Planetary Society and JAXA, to allow individuals to send their name and a message aboard Akatsuki.[10][11] Names and messages were printed in fine letters on an aluminum plate and placed aboard Akatsuki.[10] 260,214 people submitted names and messages for the mission.[12] Around 90 aluminum plates were created for the spacecraft,[13] including three aluminum plates in which the images of the Vocaloid Hatsune Miku and her super deformed figure Hachune Miku were printed.[14]



The launch of Akatsuki

Akatsuki left the Sagamihara Campus on 17 March 2010, and arrived at the Tanegashima Space Center's Spacecraft Test and Assembly Building 2 on 19 March. On 4 May, Akatsuki was encapsulated inside the large payload fairing of the H-IIA rocket that launched the spacecraft, along with the IKAROS solar sail, on a 6-month journey to Venus. On 9 May, the payload fairing was transported to the Tanegashima Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building, where the fairing was mated to the H-IIA launch vehicle itself.[15]

The spacecraft was launched on 20 May 2010 at 21:58:22 (UTC) from the Tanegashima Space Center,[5] after being delayed because of weather from its initial 18 May scheduled target.[16]

Orbit insertion failure[edit]

Akatsuki was planned to initiate orbit insertion operations by igniting the orbital maneuvering engine at 23:49:00 on 6 December 2010 UTC.[15] The burn was supposed to continue for 12 minutes, to an initial orbit of 180,000 to 200,000 km (110,000 to 120,000 mi) apoapsis / 550 km (340 mi) periapsis / 4 days orbital period around Venus.[17]

The orbit insertion maneuver was confirmed to have started on time. But after the expected blackout due to occultation by Venus, the communication with the probe did not recover as planned. The probe was found to be in safe-hold mode, spin-stabilized state with 10 minutes per rotation.[18] Due to the low communication speed through the low-gain antenna, it took a while to determine the state of the probe.[19] JAXA stated on 8 December, that the probe's orbital insertion maneuver had failed.[20][21] At a press conference on 10 December, officials reported that Akatsuki's engines fired for less than 3 minutes, far short of what was required to enter into Venus orbit.[22] Further research have found that the likely reason for the probe malfunction was the salt deposits jamming the valve between the helium pressurization tank and the fuel tank. As a result, engine combustion became oxidizer-rich, with resulting high combustion temperatures damaging the combustion chamber throat and nozzle. A similar vapor leakage problem also destroyed the Mars Observer probe back in 1993.[23]

Recovery efforts[edit]

JAXA is developing plans to attempt another orbital-insertion burn when the probe returns to Venus in 2015. This requires placing the probe into a hibernation state to prolong its life beyond the original 4.5-year design. JAXA expressed some confidence in keeping the probe operational, pointing to reduced battery wear, since the probe is orbiting the Sun instead of its intended Venerian orbit.[24]

It was suggested by telemetry data from the original failure that the throat of the orbit maneuver engine (OME) was still largely intact, and trial jet thrusts of the probe's onboard OME were performed twice, on 7 and 14 September 2011.[15] However, the thrust was only about 40 newtons (9.0 lbf)—10% of expectations. Following these results, it was determined that insufficient specific impulse will be available for orbital maneuvering by the OME. It was concluded that the remaining combustion chamber throat was completely destroyed by transient ignition of the engine. As a result, the strategy of using only the monopropellant (hydrazine) reaction control system (RCS) thruster was instead adopted. Because the RCS thrusters do not need oxidiser, the remaining 65 kg of oxidiser (MON) was vented overboard in October 2011 to lighten the spacecraft.[23]

Three peri-Venus orbital maneuvers were executed on 1 November,[5] 10 November and 21 November 2011 using the reaction control system (RCS) thruster. A total delta-V of 243.8 m/s was imparted to the spacecraft. Following this, the spacecraft will make a rendezvous with Venus in November 2015. Because the RCS engines' specific impulse is low compared to the specific impulse of the OME, the previously planned insertion into low Venerian orbit has become impossible. Instead, the probe can (depending on chosen deceleration method) reach a final elliptical orbit with an apoapsis of hundred thousand kilometers and a periapsis of a few thousand kilometers from Venus. The final orbit is expected to be prograde (in the direction of the super-rotation) and lie in the orbital plane of Venus. The exact orbital insertion method and target orbit was under consideration by JAXA as of 2013 and was expected to be decided in late 2013.[23][dated info] A report released by JAXA in February 2015 details the planned orbital insertion on December 7, 2015.[25]

It is unknown if the spacecraft will survive on its transfer orbit, having flown as close as 0.6 AU from the Sun. Temperatures within the spacecraft have risen 30°C to 40°C above design parameters, potentially damaging batteries and electronics.[23] By 14 April 2014 Akatsuki had been through six of the nine close solar approaches and was still functioning, despite exceeding the maximum design heating by 30%.[26] The probe reached its current orbit's most distant point from Venus on 3 October 2013 and has been approaching the planet since.[27] As a result of high heat flux, the gradual deterioration of heat insulation blankets was noticed, but the deterioration rate has slowed in 2015.[28] After performing the last of a series of four trajectory correction manoeuvres by 2 August 2015, the probe is set on the rendezvous trajectory with Venus. The rendezvous date has been set to 7 December 2015.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Takeshi, Oshima; Tokuhito, Sasaki. "Development of the Venus Climate Orbiter PLANET-C (AKATSUKI)". NEC Technical Journal 6 (1): 47–51. 
  2. ^ Stephen Clark (20 May 2010). "H-2A Launch Report – Mission Status Center". Spaceflight Now. Archived from the original on 20 May 2010. Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  3. ^ Chris Bergin (20 May 2010). "AXA H-IIA carrying Akatsuki and IKAROS launches at second attempt". NASASpaceFlight. Retrieved 19 November 2010. 
  4. ^ Wenz, John (September 21, 2015). "Japan's Long Lost Venus Probe May Boom Back to Life". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved October 14, 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c "AKATSUKI orbit control at perihelion". JAXA. 1 November 2011. Retrieved 3 December 2011. 
  6. ^ Staff writers (8 December 2010). "Japan probe shoots past Venus, may meet again in six years". Spacedaily.com. Retrieved 3 December 2011. 
  7. ^ "Mission overview". PLANET-C Team/JAXA. Retrieved 3 December 2011. 
  8. ^ a b "Akatsuki (Venus Climate Orbiter / Planet-C)". The Planetary Society. Retrieved 19 November 2010. 
  9. ^ Nakamura, Masato; Imamura, Takeshi; Ueno, Munetaka; et al. "Planet-C: Venus Climate Orbiter mission of Japan" (pdf). Planetary and Space Science 55 (12): 1831–1842. Bibcode:2007P&SS...55.1831N. doi:10.1016/j.pss.2007.01.009. 
  10. ^ a b "Messages From Earth: Send your Message to Venus on Akatsuki". The Planetary Society. 2010. Archived from the original on 7 April 2010. Retrieved 2 April 2010. 
  11. ^ "We will deliver your message to the bright star Venus – Akatsuki Message Campaign". JAXA. Retrieved 19 November 2010. 
  12. ^ "AKATSUKI Message Campaign". JAXA. 2010. Retrieved 2 April 2010. 
  13. ^ 金星へ届け! 県民が寄せ書き [Hoping that It Will Reach Venus! Residents of The Prefecture Write Something Together] (in Japanese). Oita Godo Shimbum. 17 May 2010. Retrieved 20 July 2010. 
  14. ^ "打ち上げを目前に控えた「あかつき」と「IKAROS」の機体が公開" [The Airframes of "Akatsuki" And "IKAROS" just before Those Launch Are Opened]. Mycom Journal (in Japanese). Mainichi Communications. 12 March 2010. Retrieved 20 July 2010. 
  15. ^ a b c "Venus Climate Orbiter "AKATSUKI" (PLANET_C): Topics". JAXA. 1 November 2011. Retrieved 3 December 2011. 
  16. ^ "Launch of Venus probe Akatsuki postponed due to bad weather". Japan Today. 18 May 2010. Retrieved 19 November 2010. 
  17. ^ 来月7日に金星周回軌道へ=あかつき、エンジン噴射−7年前は火星で失敗・宇宙機構. Jiji.com (in Japanese). Jiji Press. 18 November 2010. Retrieved 5 December 2010. 
  18. ^ 金星探査機「あかつき」の状況について [About the State of Venus Probe Akatsuki] (PDF) (in Japanese). 7 December 2010. Retrieved 7 December 2010. 
  19. ^ JAXA's press briefing, 22:00, 7 December 2010 JST
  20. ^ "Japan's Venus Probe Fails to Enter Orbit". ABC News. Retrieved 8 December 2010. 
  21. ^ "Akatsuki Mission statement". The Planetary Society. Retrieved 8 December 2010. 
  22. ^ David Cyranoski (14 December 2010). "Venus miss is a setback for Japanese programme". Nature. Retrieved 21 December 2010. 
  23. ^ a b c d Nakamura, M.; Kawakatsu, Y.; Hirose, C.; Imamura, T.; Ishii, N.; Abe, T.; Yamazaki, A.; Yamada, M.; Ogohara, K.; Uemizu, K.; Fukuhara, T.; Ohtsuki, S.; Satoh, T.; Suzuki, M.; Ueno, M.; Nakatsuka, J.; Iwagami, N.; Taguchi, M.; Watanabe, S.; Takahashi, Y.; Hashimoto, G. L.; Yamamoto, H. (2014). "Return to Venus of the Japanese Venus Climate Orbiter AKATSUKI". Acta Astronautica 93: 384–389. Bibcode:2014AcAau..93..384N. doi:10.1016/j.actaastro.2013.07.027. 
  24. ^ "Japanese Venus Probe Misses Orbit". Aviation Week & Space Technology. 
  25. ^ "Japanese craft to get second chance after missing Venus in 2010". 
  26. ^ "ISASメールマガジン 第500号 炎の中から蘇る金星探査機「あかつき」" (in Japanese). ISAS/JAXA. 14 April 2014. Retrieved 8 June 2014. 
  27. ^ 「あかつき」の旅 (2013年特別公開向け資料) (PDF) (in Japanese). PLANET-C Team/JAXA. 26 August 2013. Retrieved 8 June 2014. 
  28. ^ "AKATSUKI heading to Venus again". PLANET-C Team/JAXA. 9 January 2015. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  29. ^ "AKATSUKI: Orbit successfully controlled". PLANET-C Team/JAXA. 5 August 2015. Retrieved 10 September 2015. 

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