Emily Lakdawalla • Dec 06, 2010
Something has not gone right with Akatsuki, but they have communications
I was unable to follow Akatsuki's entry into Venus orbit in real time due to family obligations. Checking in now, about four hours after it was to have entered orbit, it seems that something did not go correctly, but not much information is available. The Twitter feed seemed to be updating events according to the timeline I posted earlier until after the expected communications blackout, when the spacecraft apparently did not communicate with Earth as expected. But communications have been reestablished; a native Japanese speaker's translation of this Tweet is: "As of 7 Dec 2010 1028 JST received signal from Akatsuki. We are attempting to verify its position (attitude?)." That was at 01:28 UTC, about an hour and a half after the planned orbit insertion. Thanks to Ms. Previsich for the translation!
The main question, not yet resolved, is whether Akatsuki completed the planned orbit insertion rocket firing. JAXA needs to regain normal communications with the spacecraft, and they need to determine its orbit, in order to answer that question. Daniel Fischer has been doing the difficult work of following machine translations of Japanese tweets this evening to try to establish what is going on for English-speaking readers (which is marvelous, since he is German). He's posted links to some sites which have a bit more information, including a Spaceflight Now story that says that JAXA confirmed that Akatsuki at least began the orbit insertion burn as expected, which is very good news if true. Some other Tweets seem to indicate that Akatsuki has reverted to communications through a low-gain antenna, which would explain why there's not as much information as expected.
It's all a bit murky right now; we'll have to be patient and wait for JAXA to figure out what's going on, and for news to trickle out eventually in English. I'll post when I have some new information that I trust.
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