Second chances in space missions are exceedingly rare. When something goes wrong it often means either a total loss of the mission or a significantly reduced outlook for what the mission can accomplish. Primarily this comes down to the tight engineering challenges that space missions face, with multiple redundant systems only able to cope with so much. Still every so often they happen and sometimes a new mission is born out one that might have been a failure. Such is the story of JAXA’s Akatsuki craft, one that has been lying in wait for the last 5 years waiting for its chance to fulfill its mission.
Akatsuki launched 5 years ago aboard JAXA’s H-IIA rocket. It was to be JAXA’s second interplanetary probe after their first, Nozomi, failed to reached its intended destination over a decade prior. The insertion burn was confirmed to have started on schedule, however after the communications blackout period where the probe was behind Venus it failed to reestablish communications at the expected time. It was found drifting away from Venus in safe mode, indicating that it had undergone some form of failure. In this state it was operating in a very low bandwidth mode and so it took some time to diagnose what had happened. As it turned out the main engine had fired for only 3 minutes before failing, not enough to put it in the required orbit.
However it was enough to put Akatsuki on a leading orbit with Venus, one that would eventually bring it back around to meet the planet some time in the future. It was then decided that JAXA would attempt recovery of the craft into a new orbit around Venus, a highly elliptical orbit with a period of almost 2 weeks (the originally intended orbital period was approximately 30 hours). Investigation into the craft’s damaged sustained during the first initial burn showed that the main engine was unusable and so the insertion burn would be performed by its attitude thrusters. JAXA had a lot of time to plan this as the next scheduled rendezvous would not happen for another 5 years.
Following some initial maneuvers back in July and September Akatsuki began its orbital insertion burn on the 7th of December. The small attitude thrusters, designed to keep the spacecraft oriented, fired for 20 straight minutes far beyond what they were originally designed for. They did their job however and 2 days later JAXA announced that they had successfully entered orbit around Venus, albeit in the far more elliptical orbit than they originally planned.
The extended duration in space has likely taken its toll on Akatsuki and so JAXA is currently undertaking a detailed investigation of its current status. 3 of its 6 cameras have shown to be fully functioning with the remainder scheduled to be brought online very soon. Scientific experiments using Akatsuki’s instruments won’t begin until sometime next year however as an orbital correction maneuver is planned to reduce Akatsuki’s orbit slightly. However JAXA is confident that the majority of their science objectives can be met, an amazing boon to both their team and the wider scientific community.
It’s incredibly heartening to see JAXA successfully recover the Akatsuki craft after such a monumental setback. The research conducted using data from the Akatsuki craft will give us insights into why Venus is such a strange beast, rotating slowly in opposite direction to every other planet in our solar system. Whilst I’d never wish failure upon anyone I know the lessons learnt from this experience will bolster JAXA’s future missions and, hopefully, their next one won’t suffer a similar fate.
This morning brings some good news for America and the world at large. After 4 consecutive quarters of the GDP shrinking, the unemployment rate rocketing to 9.5% and the financial markets flailing around in a complete mess the United States of America have managed to drag themselves up out of the dank depths of recession and post some exceptionally strong growth (given the circumstances). Of course it’s not all sunshine and rainbows over there yet, and Obama has recognised this with his recent speech on the matter:
Oct. 29 (Bloomberg) — President Barack Obama said U.S. economic growth in the third quarter affirms that the recession is abating, adding that the nation has “a long way to go” to fully recover and reduce unemployment.
He said a Commerce Department report that the economy grew at a 3.5 percent pace in the third quarter, after shrinking for four quarters, is “welcome news and an affirmation that this recession is abating.” It isn’t enough, he added.
“The benchmark I use to measure the strength of our economy is not just whether our GDP is growing, but whether we’re creating jobs, whether families are having an easier time paying their bills, whether our businesses are hiring and doing well,” Obama told business leaders in a speech on the White House grounds.
He’s being cautious in trumpeting this as a victory for himself and his party and this is with good reason. Right now the last thing that any economy needs is uncontrolled growth as that will just get us back in the same situation in a very short period of time. Right now this serves as an indicator that the work the Obama administration has done in order to combat the financial troubles experienced in America worked and the lessons of the past have not gone unheeded. It would seem that all the naysayers about the various stimulus packages will have to take another look at what they’ve said as it appears that Obama’s ideas have worked despite their vitriol.
Hopefully this is the kind of indicator that will prompt companies to start rethinking their strategic direction. For the last few years most of them have been in at least one form of damage control or cost reduction scheme in order to stay in business. This is of course what has lead to the high unemployment figures that are currently plauging the USA. A few quarters of consecutive, small growth will see most businesses rework their directions from “staying alive” back to business as usual and this will easily be tracked in the unemployment rate. In fact the last 3 months have seen a drop in the unemployment rate of 0.2%. It’s not much, but it’s definitely a start.
For as long as the GFC has been in effect I’ve always been very skeptical about how long its effects would last. Sure when you tallied up the dollar amounts that were lost or “potential loses” the situation looked extremely grim, much worse than the great depression. The knowledge of past recessions however let us ride through this with a few bruises but wiser for the experience. One good thing that’s come of this is tighter regulation of the banks in the USA, something which could have prevented this disaster from happening in the first place.
Overall this is great news for the world at large. When the giant of America was toppled by its own system the world rightly went into panic. After battling naysayers, unwilling congress critters and the scathing eye of the media Obama has won himself a hard fought victory for all of America and this will resonate with the public.
Like my fellow blogger said, he’s going to have no trouble coasting into re-election come 2012.