The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is planning to launch the Akatsuki satellite from the Tanegashima Space Centre on 18th May. The satellite will investigate the climate of Venus in a mission that will overlap with the European Space Agency’s Venus Express. According to Japanese scientists, it is the first mission to focus on the climate of a planet other than Earth and is pioneering the study of planetary meteorology.
The mission will map the atmosphere on Venus in three dimensions, by taking continuous images using different wavelengths ranging from infrared to ultraviolet. The mission will also study the formation of the thick sulphuric acid clouds that envelop Venus, and hopes to detect lightning on the planet.
Professor Nakamura Masato, the research director on the Venus Climate Orbiter Project explained: “Venus itself hardly rotates at all, but the surrounding layer of CO2 circles the planet in the equivalent of four days on Earth. It’s extremely strange. The centre is almost still but the surroundings are moving. So discovering why Earth and Venus are so different is one of our major objectives. By understanding Venus we hope to understand the Earth.”
Another experiment, Ikaros, is propelled by harnessing photons from the sun. It has a diagonal spread of 20 meters and can be controlled via electromagnetic mirror-like devices that capture solar radiation. Based on what they learn from Ikaros, scientists hope to develop a fuel efficient system for other space missions.