Engineering:Akatsuki (spacecraft)

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Short description: Japanese orbiter to Venus
A model of the spacecraft Akatsuki
Mission typeVenus orbiter
COSPAR ID2010-020D
SATCAT no.36576
JAXA Special Site
Mission duration~2 years (science phase)
elapsed: 11 years, 5 months and 17 days
Spacecraft properties
ManufacturerNEC Space Technologies
Launch mass517.6 kg (1,141 lb)[1]
Dry mass320 kg (710 lb)
Dimensions1.04 m × 1.45 m × 1.44 m (3.4 ft × 4.8 ft × 4.7 ft)
Power>700 watts at 0.7 AU[1]
Start of mission
Launch date20 May 2010, 21:58:22 (2010-05-20UTC21:58:22Z) UTC[2]
RocketH-IIA 202
Launch siteTanegashima YLP-1
Orbital parameters
Reference systemCytherocentric
Pericytherion altitude1,000 kilometers (620 mi)
Apocytherion altitude330,000 kilometers (210,000 mi)
Period10.8 days[3]
Flyby of Venus (failed insertion)
Closest approach6 December 2010, 23:49:00 UTC
Distance550 kilometers (340 mi)
Venus orbiter
Orbital insertion7 December 2015[4][5]
Animation of Akatsuki trajectory from 21 May 2010 to 31 December 2016.
Akatsuki; Venus; Earth; Sun;

Akatsuki (あかつき, 暁, "Dawn"), also known as the Venus Climate Orbiter (VCO) and Planet-C, is a Japanese (JAXA) space probe tasked to study the atmosphere of Venus. It was launched aboard an H-IIA 202 rocket on 20 May 2010,[6] and failed to enter orbit around Venus on 6 December 2010. After the craft orbited the Sun for five years, engineers successfully placed it into an alternative Venusian elliptic orbit on 7 December 2015 by firing its attitude control thrusters for 20 minutes and made it the first Asian satellite orbiting Venus.[4][5][7][8]

By using five different cameras working at several wavelengths, Akatsuki is studying the stratification of the atmosphere, atmospheric dynamics, and cloud physics.[9][10] Astronomers working on the mission reported detecting a possible gravity wave (not to be confused with gravitational waves) in Venus' atmosphere in December 2015.[11]


Akatsuki is a Japanese orbiter mission currently studying the planet Venus. Observations include cloud and surface imaging from an orbit around the planet with cameras operating in the infrared, visible and UV wavelengths to investigate the complex Venusian meteorology and elucidate the processes behind the mysterious atmospheric super-rotation. On Venus, while the planet rotates at 6 km/h at the equator, the atmosphere spins around the planet at 300 km/h. Other experiments are designed to confirm the presence of lightning and to determine whether volcanism occurs currently on Venus.[12]

Akatsuki is Japan's first planetary exploration mission since the failed Mars orbiter Nozomi probe which was launched in 1998. Akatsuki was originally intended to conduct scientific research for two or more years from an elliptical orbit around Venus ranging from 300 to 80,000 km (190 to 49,710 mi) in altitude,[1] but its alternate orbit had to be highly elliptical ranging between 1,000 km and 10,000 km at its nearest point and about 360,000 km at its farthest. This larger orbit takes 10 days to complete instead of the originally planned 30 hours.[13] The budget for this mission is ¥14.6 billion (US$174 million) for the satellite and ¥9.8 billion (US$116 million) for the launch.[14]

Spacecraft design

The main bus is a 1.45 × 1.04 × 1.44 m (4.8 × 3.4 × 4.7 ft) box with two solar arrays, each with an area of about 1.4 m2 (15 sq ft). The solar arrays provide over 700 W of power while in Venus orbit. The total mass of the spacecraft at launch was 517.6 kg (1,141 lb).[1] The mass of the science payload is 34 kg (75 lb).[15]

Propulsion is provided by a 500-newton (110 lbf) bi-propellant, hydrazine-dinitrogen tetroxide orbital maneuvering engine and twelve mono-propellant hydrazine reaction control thrusters, eight with 23 N (5.2 lbf) of thrust and four with 3 N (0.67 lbf).[1] It is the first spacecraft to use a ceramic (silicon nitride) retrofire thruster. The total propellant mass at launch was 196.3 kg (433 lb).[1]

Communication is via an 8 GHz, 20-watt X-band transponder using the 1.6 m (5 ft 3 in) high-gain antenna. The high-gain antenna is flat to prevent heat from building up in it.[10] Akatsuki also has a pair of medium-gain horn antennas mounted on turntables and two low-gain antennas for command uplink. The medium-gain horn antennas are used for housekeeping data downlink when the high-gain antenna is not facing Earth.[1]


The scientific payload consists of six instruments. The five imaging cameras are exploring Venus in wavelengths from ultraviolet to the mid-infrared:[16][17]

  1. the Lightning and Airglow Camera (LAC) is looking for lightning in the visible spectrum (552-777 nm)
  2. the ultraviolet imager (UVI) is studying the distribution of specific atmospheric gases such as sulfur dioxide and the famous unknown absorber at ultraviolet wavelengths (283–365 nm)
  3. the longwave infrared camera (LIR) is studying the structure of high-altitude clouds at a wavelength where they emit heat (10 μm)
  4. the infrared 1 μm camera (IR1) is imaging on the night side heat radiation (0.90–1.01 μm) emitted from Venus's surface and help researchers to spot active volcanoes, if they exist. While on the day side, it sensed the solar near-infrared radiation (0.90 μm) reflected by the middle clouds. Unavailable for observation after December 2016 due to an electronic failure.[18][19]
  5. the infrared 2 μm camera (IR2) studied the night side lower clouds' opacity to the thermal emission from the surface and deeper atmosphere (1.74–2.32 μm). It also sensed on the day side the CO2 band at 2.02 μm, which can be used to infer the altitude of the top of the clouds. Finally, the 1.65-μm filter was used during the cruise phase to study the zodiacal light. Unavailable for observation after December 2016 due to an electronic failure.[19]
  6. the Ultra-Stable Oscillator (USO) for performing radio occultation experiments.

Public relations

A public relations campaign was held between October 2009 and January 2010 by the Planetary Society and JAXA, to allow individuals to send their name and a message aboard Akatsuki.[20][21] Names and messages were printed in fine letters on an aluminium plate and placed aboard Akatsuki.[20] 260,214 people submitted names and messages for the mission.[22] Around 90 aluminium plates were created for the spacecraft,[23] including three aluminium plates in which the images of the Vocaloid Hatsune Miku and her super deformed-styled figure Hachune Miku were printed.[24]



The launch of Akatsuki

Akatsuki left the Sagamihara Campus on 17 March 2010, and arrived at the Tanegashima Space Center's Spacecraft Test and Assembly Building 2 on 19 March. On 4 May, Akatsuki was encapsulated inside the large payload fairing of the H-IIA rocket that launched the spacecraft, along with the IKAROS solar sail, on a 6-month journey to Venus. On 9 May, the payload fairing was transported to the Tanegashima Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building, where the fairing was mated to the H-IIA launch vehicle itself.[25]

The spacecraft was launched on 20 May 2010 at 21:58:22 (UTC) from the Tanegashima Space Center,[12] after being delayed because of weather from its initial 18 May scheduled target.[26]

Orbit insertion failure

Akatsuki was planned to initiate orbit insertion operations by igniting the orbital maneuvering engine at 23:49:00 on 6 December 2010 UTC.[25] The burn was supposed to continue for twelve minutes, to an initial Venus orbit with an apoapsis of 180,000 to 200,000 km (110,000 to 120,000 mi), a periapsis of 550 km (340 mi), and a four-day orbital period.[27]

The orbit insertion maneuver was confirmed to have started on time, but after the expected blackout due to occultation by Venus, the communication with the probe did not recover as planned. The probe was found to be in safe-hold mode, spin-stabilized state with ten minutes per rotation.[28] Due to the low communication speed through the low-gain antenna, it took a while to determine the state of the probe.[29] JAXA stated on 8 December that the probe's orbital insertion maneuver had failed.[30][31] At a press conference on 10 December, officials reported that Akatsuki's engines fired for less than three minutes, far less than what was required to enter into Venus orbit.[32] Further research found that the likely reason for the engine malfunction was salt deposits jamming the valve between the helium pressurization tank and the fuel tank. As a result, engine combustion became oxidizer-rich, with resulting high combustion temperatures damaging the combustion chamber throat and nozzle. A similar vapor leakage problem destroyed the NASA Mars Observer probe in 1993.[33]

As a result, the probe was in a heliocentric orbit, rather than Venus orbit. Since the resulting orbit had an orbital period of 203 days,[34] shorter than Venus' orbital period of 225 days, the probe drifted around the Sun compared to Venus.

Recovery efforts

JAXA developed plans to attempt another orbital insertion burn when the probe returned to Venus in December 2015. This required placing the probe into "hibernation" or safe mode to prolong its life beyond the original 4.5-year design. JAXA expressed some confidence in keeping the probe operational, pointing to reduced battery wear, since the probe was then orbiting the Sun instead of its intended Venusian orbit.[35]

Telemetry data from the original failure suggested that the throat of its main engine, the orbit maneuver engine (OME) was still largely intact, and trial jet thrusts of the probe's onboard OME were performed twice, on 7 and 14 September 2011.[25] However, the thrust was only about 40 newtons (9.0 lbf), which was 10% of expectations. Following these tests, it was determined that insufficient specific impulse would be available for orbital maneuvering by the OME. It was concluded that the remaining combustion chamber throat was completely destroyed by transient ignition of the engine. As a result, the selected strategy was to use four hydrazine attitude control thrusters, also called reaction control system (RCS), to drive the probe into orbit around Venus. Because the RCS thrusters do not need oxidiser, the remaining 65 kg of oxidiser (MON) was vented overboard in October 2011 to reduce the mass of the spacecraft.[33]

Three peri-Venus orbital maneuvers were executed on 1 November,[12] 10 and 21 November 2011 using the RCS thrusters. A total delta-v of 243.8 m/s was imparted to the spacecraft. Because the RCS thrusters' specific impulse is low compared to the specific impulse of the OME, the previously planned insertion into low Venusian orbit became impossible. Instead, the new plan was to place the probe in a highly elliptical orbit with an apoapsis of a hundred thousand kilometers and a periapsis of a few thousand kilometers from Venus. Engineers planned for the alternate orbit to be prograde (in the direction of the atmospheric super-rotation) and lie in the orbital plane of Venus. The method and orbit were announced by JAXA in February 2015, with an orbit insertion date of 7 December 2015.[36] The probe reached its most distant point from Venus on 3 October 2013 and had been approaching the planet since then.[37]

Orbit insertion

Animation of Akatsuki's trajectory around Venus from 1 December 2015
   Akatsuki ·   Venus

After performing the last of a series of four trajectory correction maneuvers between 17 July and 11 September 2015, the probe was established on a trajectory to fly past Venus on 7 December 2015, when Akatsuki would make a maneuver to enter Venus orbit after a 20-minute burn with four thrusters that were not rated for such a hefty propulsive maneuver.[4][5][38] Instead of taking about 30 hours to complete an orbit around Venus—as was originally planned—the new orbit targeted would place Akatsuki in a nine-day orbit after an adjustment in March 2016.[3]

After JAXA engineers measured and calculated its orbit following the 7 December orbital insertion, JAXA announced on 9 December that Akatsuki had successfully entered the intended elliptical orbit, as far as 440,000 km (270,000 mi) from Venus, and as close as 400 km (250 mi) from Venus's surface with an orbital period of 13 days and 14 hours.[39]

A follow-up thruster burn on 26 March 2016 lowered Akatsuki's apoapsis to about 330,000 km (210,000 mi) and shortened its orbital period from 13 to 9 days.[3]


The orbiter started its two-year period of "regular" science operations in mid-May 2016.[40] Since 9 December 2016, the near-infrared 1-μm and 2-μm cameras have been unavailable for observations due to an electronic failure.[18][19] Its long-wave infrared camera, ultraviolet imager, and lightning and airglow camera continue normal operation.[19]

By April 2018, Akatsuki finished its regular observation phase, and entered an extended operation phase.[41] Extended operations are approved until the end of 2020, with further mission extensions to be considered based on the spacecraft's condition at that time. Akatsuki has enough fuel to continue operating for at least 2 more years as of November 2019.[42]


Three hours after insertion in December 2015 and in "a few glimmers in April and May" 2016 the craft's instruments recorded a "bow-shape feature in the atmosphere stretching 6,000 miles, almost pole to pole — a sideways smile".[43] Scientists on the project termed the feature a "gravity wave" in the planet's winds above Aphrodite Terra, "a highland region about the size of Africa that rises up to three miles from the surface".[11] The mission is collecting data in all relevant spectral bands from ultraviolet (280 nm) to mid-infrared wavelengths (10 μm).[44]

Images from the Akatsuki orbiter revealed something similar to jet stream winds in the low and middle cloud region, which extends from 45 to 60 kilometers in altitude.[45] The wind speed maximized near the equator. In September 2017 JAXA scientists named this phenomenon 'Venusian equatorial jet'.[46] They also published results on equatorial winds at cloud-top level by tracking clouds on the UV spectrum.[47] A significant result in 2018 is the appearance of thick clouds of small particles near the transition between upper and middle clouds, what was described as a "new and puzzling morphology of the complex cloud cover."[43] By 2017, the science team published 3D maps on the Venus atmosphere structure.[43] The physical quantities retrieved include the pressure, the temperature, the H2SO4 vapor density, and the ionospheric electron density and their variations.[43] By the year 2019, the first results about the morphology, temporal changes[48] and the winds at the middle clouds of Venus were published and merited the cover in Geophysical Research Letters, reporting unexpectedly high contrasts that might indicate the presence of absorbers like water.[49]

To image lightning, the orbiter has sight of the dark side of Venus for about 30 minutes every 10 days.[50] As of July 2019, it has accumulated 16.8 hours of observations of the night side, and no lightning has been detected.[51]

Gallery: Photos of Venus by Akatsuki

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Takeshi, Oshima; Tokuhito, Sasaki. "Development of the Venus Climate Orbiter PLANET-C (AKATSUKI)". NEC Technical Journal 6 (1): 47–51. 
  2. Stephen Clark (20 May 2010). "H-2A Launch Report – Mission Status Center". Spaceflight Now. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Japanese probe fires thrusters in second bid to enter Venus orbit". The Japan Times. 7 December 2015. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Szondy, David. "Akatsuki probe enters orbit around Venus". 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Clark, Stephan. "Japanese probe fires rockets to steer into orbit at Venus". 
  6. Chris Bergin (20 May 2010). "AXA H-IIA carrying Akatsuki and IKAROS launches at second attempt". NASASpaceFlight. 
  7. Limaye, Sanjay. "Live from Sagamihara: Akatsuki Orbit Insertion – Second Try". 
  8. Wenz, John (21 September 2015). "Japan's Long Lost Venus Probe May Boom Back to Life". Popular Mechanics. 
  9. Nakamura, N. (May 2011). "Overview of Venus orbiter, Akatsuki". Earth, Planets and Space 63 (5): 443–457. doi:10.5047/eps.2011.02.009. ISSN 1880-5981. Bibcode2011EP&S...63..443N. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Exploring the Venusian Atmosphere – AKATSUKI/PLANET-C". 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Chang, Kenneth (16 January 2017). "Venus Smiled, With a Mysterious Wave Across Its Atmosphere". The New York Times.  Including link to Tetsuya Fukuhara et al., "Large stationary gravity wave in the atmosphere of Venus" (preview/subscription), Nature Geoscience via NYTimes link, 16 January 2017.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 "AKATSUKI orbit control at perihelion". JAXA. 1 November 2011. 
  13. "JAXA | Takeshi Imamura Project Scientist, AKATSUKI "Venus Unveiled: A Planet Beyond Our Imagination"". 
  14. Staff writers (8 December 2010). "Japan probe shoots past Venus, may meet again in six years". 
  15. "Mission overview". PLANET-C Team/JAXA. 
  16. "Akatsuki (Venus Climate Orbiter / Planet-C)". The Planetary Society. 
  17. Nakamura, Masato et al. (2007). "Planet-C: Venus Climate Orbiter mission of Japan". Planetary and Space Science 55 (12): 1831–1842. doi:10.1016/j.pss.2007.01.009. Bibcode2007P&SS...55.1831N. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 Initial products of Akatsuki 1-μm camera . Earth, Planets and Space. 2018, vol. 70, nbr. 6. doi:10.1186/s40623-017-0773-5
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 "Two cameras on Akatsuki pause observations". JAXA. 3 March 2017. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 "Messages From Earth: Send your Message to Venus on Akatsuki". The Planetary Society. 2010. 
  21. "We will deliver your message to the bright star Venus – Akatsuki Message Campaign". JAXA. 
  22. "AKATSUKI Message Campaign". JAXA. 2010. 
  23. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}" (in ja). Oita Godo Shimbum. 17 May 2010. 
  24. "打ち上げを目前に控えた「あかつき」と「IKAROS」の機体が公開" (in ja). Mycom Journal. Mainichi Communications. 12 March 2010. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 "Venus Climate Orbiter "AKATSUKI" (PLANET_C): Topics". JAXA. 1 November 2011. 
  26. "Launch of Venus probe Akatsuki postponed due to bad weather". Japan Today. 18 May 2010. 
  27. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}" (in ja). Jiji Press. 18 November 2010. 
  28. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}" (in ja). 7 December 2010. 
  29. JAXA's press briefing, 22:00, 7 December 2010 JST
  30. "Japan's Venus Probe Fails to Enter Orbit". ABC News. 
  31. "Akatsuki Mission statement". The Planetary Society. 
  32. David Cyranoski (14 December 2010). "Venus miss is a setback for Japanese programme". Nature 468 (7326): 882. doi:10.1038/468882a. PMID 21164456. Bibcode2010Natur.468..882C. 
  33. 33.0 33.1 Nakamura, M.; Kawakatsu, Y.; Hirose, C.; Imamura, T.; Ishii, N.; Abe, T.; Yamazaki, A.; Yamada, M. et al. (2014). "Return to Venus of the Japanese Venus Climate Orbiter AKATSUKI". Acta Astronautica 93: 384–389. doi:10.1016/j.actaastro.2013.07.027. Bibcode2014AcAau..93..384N. 
  34. (retrieved 13 June 2017)
  35. "Japanese Venus Probe Misses Orbit". Aviation Week & Space Technology. 
  36. "Japanese craft to get second chance after missing Venus in 2010". 
  37. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}" (in ja). PLANET-C Team/JAXA. 26 August 2013. 
  38. "AKATSUKI: Orbit successfully controlled". PLANET-C Team/JAXA. 5 August 2015. 
  39. "Venus Climate Orbiter "AKATSUKI" Inserted Into Venus' Orbit". JAXA. 9 December 2015. 
  40. Clark, Steven (17 May 2016). "Japanese orbiter officially begins science mission at Venus". Spaceflight Now. 
  41. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}" (in ja). May 2018. p. 4. 
  42. Nakamura, Masato (19 November 2019). "あかつきの現状" (in ja). ISAS/JAXA. 
  43. 43.0 43.1 43.2 43.3 Special issue "Akatsuki at Venus: The First Year of Scientific Operation. Masato Nakamura, Dmitri Titov, Kevin McGouldrick, Pierre Drossart, Jean-Loup Bertaux, Huixin Liu. Earth, Planets and Space. December 2018.
  44. Peralta, J.; Lee, Y.J.; McGouldrick, K.; Sagawa, H.; Sánchez-Lavega, A.; Imamura, T.; Widemann, T.; Nakamura, M. (2017). "Overview of useful spectral regions for Venus: An update to encourage observations complementary to the Akatsuki mission". Icarus 288: 235–239. doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2017.01.027. Bibcode2017Icar..288..235P. 
  45. Bouic, Damia (16 January 2018). "A new look at Venus with Akatsuki". The Planetary Society Blog (The Planetary Society). 
  46. "Venus: Jet-setting atmosphere". Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). 5 September 2017. 
  47. Mean winds at the cloud top of Venus obtained from two-wavelength UV imaging by Akatsuki. Takeshi Horinouchi, Toru Kouyama, Yeon Joo Lee, Shin-ya Murakami, Kazunori Ogohara, Masahiro Takagi, Takeshi Imamura, Kensuke Nakajima, Javier Peralta, Atsushi Yamazaki, Manabu Yamada and Shigeto Watanabe. Earth, Planets and Space doi:10.1186/s40623-017-0775-3 Published: 15 January 2018.
  48. New research takes deeper look at Venus’s clouds, 29 April 2019
  49. J. Peralta, N. Iwagami, A. Sánchez‐Lavega, Y. J. Lee, R. Hueso, M. Narita, T. Imamura, P. Miles, A. Wesley, E. Kardasis and S. Takagi (2019). "Morphology and Dynamics of Venus's Middle Clouds With Akatsuki/IR1". Geophysical Research Letters 46 (5): 2399–2407. doi:10.1029/2018GL081670. Bibcode2019GeoRL..46.2399P. 
  50. Hunt for optical lightning flash in Venus using LAC onboard Akatsuki spacecraft. Takahashi, Yukihiro; Sato, Mitsuteru; Imai, Masataka. 19th EGU General Assembly, EGU2017, proceedings from the conference held 23–28 April 2017 in Vienna, Austria., p.11381.
  51. Constraints on Venus Lightning From Akatsuki's First 3 Years in Orbit. Ralph D. Lorenz, Masataka Imai, Yukihiro Takahashi, Mitsuteru Sato, Atsushi Yamazaki, Takao M. Sato, Takeshi Imamura, Takehiko Satoh, Masato Nakamura. Geophysical Research Letters. 3 July 2019. doi:10.1029/2019GL083311

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