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Emily LakdawallaNovember 19, 2015

Two JAXA mission updates: Akatsuki Venus orbit entry and PROCYON Earth flyby coming up!

Akatsuki is finally approaching its second attempt to enter Venus orbit, on December 7. The mission is asking its fans to share messages and tweet #あかつき応援 ("Akatsuki cheer") in their support. Even astronaut Kimiya Yui is getting into the act of cheering on Akatsuki:

@Akatsuki_JAXA あかつきちゃん!元気にしているかな?「きんせい」ちゃんへ向かってから2000日以上経ったね。12月7日。きっと今度は君の女神「きんせい」ちゃんが君の一途な気持ちを受け止めてくれる!イタリア上空より。宙亀 pic.twitter.com/vvoVlfT6Kf

— 油井 亀美也 Kimiya.Yui (@Astro_Kimiya) November 19, 2015

It looks like the best place for updates on Akatsuki's status is the mission's Twitter feed. They have successfully tested several of the cameras, and the rest of the science instruments will be checked out after orbit insertion. They also have rehearsed the day of orbit entry, coordinating with the Japanese ground stations at Usuda and Uchinoura as well as NASA's Deep Space Network. There is a detailed post summarizing Akatsuki's status and the plans for orbit insertion at spaceflightnow.com today.

I am really not sure what to think of Akatsuki's chances for orbit entry using nothing but its steering rockets, but I am confident that the mission engineers have done everything they possibly could to increase Akatsuki's chances for success. So my wishes for the Akatsuki Venus orbit entry attempt are for the aerospace engineer's favorite word: I wish everything is nominal! Go Akatsuki!

There is another Japanese spacecraft making a flyby right about now: PROCYON. PROCYON is a small test spacecraft, launched with Hayabusa2, whose ion engine failed earlier this year, so will not be able to steer to a rendezvous with a near-Earth asteroid as hoped. However, it appears that the rest of the flight system is still perfectly functional, and since it was launched on a course for an Earth flyby, it is going to do an Earth flyby, working engine or no! Gravity is great like that. The flyby will happen on December 3.

As it approaches, PROCYON is using its cameras to photograph Earth, and the mission is posting the images to its Facebook page. Here are three views of Earth from PROCYON:

Three views of Earth from PROCYON

JAXA / University of Tokyo

Three views of Earth from PROCYON
The experimental satellite PROCYON captured these three images of Earth on approach to its December 3, 2015 flyby.

And a lovely image of Earth and the Moon together.

Earth and the Moon from PROCYON

JAXA / University of Tokyo

Earth and the Moon from PROCYON
PROCYON captured this photo of Earth and the Moon together from a distance of 8 million kilometers on November 16, 2015.

It's sad that PROCYON won't meet its asteroid, but hopefully the university team working with the spacecraft is learning a lot from their otherwise successful deep-space operations. If these are the images we're getting from 8 million kilometers away, I'm looking forward to better and better photos as it gets closer!

Read more: pics of Earth by planetary missions, pretty pictures, Hayabusa2, mission status, Akatsuki (Planet-C), Earth, the Moon

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
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