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Japan's first Venus probe to enter orbit

world Updated: Dec 07, 2010 09:53 IST

Japan's first space probe bound for Venus on Tuesday was on course to enter the orbit of the planet that is similar in size and age to the Earth, the space agency said.

The Planet-C Venus Climate Orbiter, a box-shaped golden satellite fitted with two paddle-shaped solar panels, blasted off from a space centre in southern Japan in May.

As it closed in on Venus early on Tuesday, the probe, nicknamed "Akatsuki" or "Dawn", reversed its engine to slow and enter the planet's gravitational field.

"It is navigating smoothly," a spokeswoman at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said, adding that it would be announced later Tuesday whether it had entered the orbit as planned.

Akatsuki restored communications with the ground control in Sagamihara, near Tokyo, after contact was lost temporarily when the probe was on the other side of Venus.

The communication gap was longer than earlier expected but the satellite seemed to be cruising with no major problems, the space official said.

Venus is similar in size and age to Earth but has a far more hostile climate, with temperatures around 460 degrees Celsius (860 degrees Fahrenheit) and large amounts of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas on Earth.

Scientists believe a probe of the climate of Venus will help them deepen their understanding of the formation of the Earth's environment and its future.

Fitted with five cameras, its mission is to peer through the planet's thick layer of sulphuric acid clouds to monitor the meteorology of Venus, search for possible lightning, and scan its crust for active volcanoes.

Akatsuki will work closely with the European Space Agency's Venus Express.