JAXA's Akatsuki probe goes silent after more than a decade studying Venus

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The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has lost contact with the only active Venus probe, Akatsuki.

The Institute of Space and Astronautical Science "has lost contact with Akatsuki after an operation in late April due to an extended period of low attitude stability control mode and is currently making efforts to reestablish communication with the spacecraft," the space agency stated.

A JAXA website furthered that the long period of time spent in control mode was accompanied by a difficulty to accurately maintain attitude.

"The probe has already exceeded its four-and-a-half-year design lifespan after launch and is now in the later stages of operation, so we are currently considering our future response," JAXA said.

Five years late to orbit, Akatsuki has had a few setbacks. Its initial tardiness was due to a mid-flight failure in its main engine that left it orbiting the Sun before finally being placed in a Venusian elliptic orbit in 2015.

It was initially sent up in May 2010 with an assignment to study Venus's atmosphere, weather patterns, and clouds while looking for volcanic activity, which it eventually did albeit by then with aged hardware that was exposed to more solar radiation than designed for.

Since then, Akatsuki has suffered other glitches, including those related to power. Unexplained power fluctuations occurred in two of its five cameras in late 2016 and were shut down to avoid draining the power system.

Overall, the mission has made the best of a difficult situation – performing for 14 years when originally designed for four and a half.

New missions to Venus are planned for later in the decade, including NASA's VERITAS and DAVINCI+, a private mission from Rocket Lab, a mission from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), and the European Space Agency's EnVision. ®

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