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Japan's Venus probe fails to enter orbit

SAGAMIHARA, Japan, Dec. 8 (UPI) -- Japan says its Akatsuki Venus probe failed to enter orbit around the planet and is now drifting through space, jeopardizing its planned two-year mission.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency reported the failure Wednesday on the Akatsuki mission Web site, AAAS ScienceMag.org reported.

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At a news conference on the campus of JAXA's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science in Sagamihara, Japan, project manager Masato Nakamura apologized for "not meeting the expectations of the nation."

The main hope of rescuing the mission appears to be a second try at inserting the spacecraft into orbit when it approaches the planet again in about six years, if enough fuel remains onboard as Akatsuki orbits the sun.

The mission, launched May 20, was progressing to plan until ground controllers had trouble re-establishing communications after the spacecraft passed behind Venus during its orbit injection maneuver Tuesday.

Using a backup antenna on the probe, controllers established a slow communications link, determined the spacecraft's position and concluded that a thruster meant to slow the craft to allow Venus's gravity to pull it into orbit had shut down prematurely.

Nakamura said the cause of the malfunction wouldn't be determined until more data are downloaded and reviewed.

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One focus of attention, though, will be a new type of ceramic thruster being used in space for the first time, he said.

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