JAXA Gets Ready to Launch Venus Probe

The spacecraft is the first of its kind for Japan

  Artist's rendition of the Akatsuki space probe, in orbit around Venus
Officials at the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announce that they have entered the final stages of preparing the organization's new space probe for flight. The Akatsuki spacecraft will fly to our neighboring planet Venus, where it will conduct science for Japan. This is the first such mission that the Asian country sets up. American and Russian crafts have reached Venus on several occasions, and have mapped and analyzed it extensively, but now JAXA wants to have a go at it too, Nature News reports. The main goal of the mission is to determine exactly why the Venus, which has so much in common with Earth, is so inhospitable to life.

For more than ten years, this planet has fallen in scientific neglect, in the sense that new missions to investigate it have been placed on hold. But JAXA is about to break the cycle with the May 18 launch of its Venus Climate Orbiter spacecraft, which is being shipped this week to the Tanegashima Space Center. According to mission scientists for Akatsuki, one of the primary objectives for the new mission is to determine precisely what drives the atmosphere of our scorching-hot neighbor to rotate around Venus at speeds of up to 60 times higher than that of the planet's rotation.

There aren't many space experts that can answer the question as to why studying Venus was placed on hold. Evidence collected throughout its mission by the Venus Express spacecraft, built and operated by the European Space Agency (ESA), suggests that the planet may have once been covered in oceans. It would also appear that its density is very similar to Earth's, and also that the cores of the two planets are very similar in composition. Given these data, why does our neighbor look and feel so inhospitable to life. Discovering the changes that led to this transformation is among the top objectives for the Venus Climate Orbiter spacecraft.

Venus is known to rotate at a speed of roughly 6.5 kilometers per hour. Experts have determined as well that the atmosphere moves around the planet at about 400 kilometers per hour. In addition, the body is enveloped in sulphuric acid clouds and is battered by temperatures on the range of 460 degrees Celsius. This is largely caused by global warming effects, set forth by an atmosphere made of 95 percent carbon dioxide. The magnetic field around it is also too weak to defend emergent life forms against very strong solar winds.

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By    16 Mar 2010, 08:31 GMT