Akatsuki's Final Chance at Venus
Space engineers in Japan are trying to salvage a research mission into the orbit of Venus. They missed a chance five years ago at launching a probe into the orbit of the planet because of engine problems.
Engineers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency have ignited Akatsuki's engines for a second and final attempt.
JAXA engineers had high hopes Monday when they fired up engines on the Akatsuki Venus probe. After five long years, it's getting one final shot.
"We have great expectations that the probe will enter orbit as planned," said Akatsuki project manager Masato Nakamura.
Venus is often referred to as Earth's sister-planet. They're the same size and age but their environments are very different.
Venus' atmosphere is mainly carbon dioxide. The surface temperature is about 470 degrees Celsius. Scientists say exploring the climate may provide clues to understanding climate change on Earth.
Akatsuki was launched in 2010 on a mission to explore the climate of Venus.
But the probe's main engine broke down before it could enter orbit and it spent the last 5 years circling the sun. In that time, engineers came up with a new plan. They decided to use four small engines to propel the probe forward. And they chose a new course out of thousands of formulations.
After Monday's maneuver, a JAXA official said he is relieved to have overcome the most difficult hurdle.
Engineers say there are still challenges ahead. They're worried the probe's engines may not have enough power to achieve orbit.
Successful or not, space fans are just happy to watch the maneuver.
The team will know whether its plan worked in about two days.