JAXA announced that the Akatsuki spacecraft failed to enter orbit around Venus. The orbit insertion maneuver was performed, the space agency said in a statement, but “unfortunately, we have found that the orbiter was not injected into the planned orbit as a result of orbit estimation.” While extremely disappointing, perhaps not all is lost. If the spacecraft can be stabilized, there is a chance it could enter orbit in 6 years when it passes by Venus again.
At a press conference, project manager Masato Nakamura said (from translated reports) that the spacecraft is functioning but has put itself in a standby mode with its solar panels facing towards the Sun. It is also spinning slowly — about every 10 minutes — and radio contact is possible only for 40 seconds at a time. Engineers are using ground antennas in Japan as well as NASA’s Deep Space Network to send commands to stabilize the spacecraft and to determine its trajectory.
JAXA said they have set up an investigation team to study the cause of the failure, and will provide updates with the countermeasures and investigation results.
Japan had a similar situation occur with their Nozomi spacecraft at Mars in 2003, when they lost contact with the spacecraft just 5 days before orbit insertion around the Red Planet.
Akatsuki was launched from the Tanegashima Space Center on May 21, 2010.