A Japanese space observatory will
depart Earth this month bound for Venus as it begins a multi-year
mission to study the planet’s mysterious atmosphere.

The
Venusian atmosphere as a whole is one of the great mysteries in our
solar system — from it’s make up and fast rotating upper atmosphere to
why it differs so much from it’s twin planet, Earth.

Launch
of the JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) H-2A-200 rocket with
the Venus Climate Orbiter “Akatsuki” spacecraft is scheduled for May 17
at 5:44:14 pm EDT (2144 GMT), or 6:44 am local time on May 19, from the
Tanegashima Space Center in Japan.

The
Akatsuki observatory, also known as PLANET-C, will spend nearly five
years investigating the make-up of Venus’ high carbon dioxide
atmosphere with high resolution mapping.

The spacecraft is scheduled to arrive at Venus this November.

“Akatsuki
is the world’s first planetary probe that deserves to be called a
meteorological satellite,” JAXA project scientist Dr. Takeshi Imamura
explained. “The unique feature of this mission is that it will map the
movement of the Venusian atmosphere in three dimensions, by taking
continuous images of a broad swath all at once, using different
wavelengths ranging from infrared to ultraviolet.”

The
planet’s atmosphere of 96% carbon dioxide creates surface temperatures
which average 860 degrees Fahrenheit. Venus’ heavy atmosphere, which
includes nearly 4% nitrogen, is ninety-two times heavier than that here
on Earth.

The box-shaped spacecraft will orbit the planet once every 30 hours as it flies an elliptical orbit of 186 x 49,710 miles above.

Earth’s sister planet orbits the Sun from a mean distance of 67 million miles, and has no natural satellites of it’s own.

Akatsuki will carry several science instruments and cameras, including an ultraviolet imager and a Longwave infrared camera.

“Akatsuki
is equipped with five cameras,” Imamura explained in a recent
interview. “One of them, a near-infrared camera, will be able to peer
through the thick clouds of sulfuric acid and observe the surface of
Venus, which is normally completely obscured by these clouds. In
addition to studying meteorological phenomena, we might be able to see
whether Venus has any active volcanoes.”

Venus does have over 160 volcanoes which have added a vast amount of sulfuric acid to the planet’s atmosphere.

A
secondary payload which will become a test bed for future solar sail
spacecrafts will accompany the planetary probe as they leave earth
orbit.

A small
Japanese solar power sail experiment known as IKAROS (Interplanetary
Kite-Craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun) will depart Earth and
speed toward Venus as well.

A
circular core will begin moving out into outer space and begin to
rotate at 20 rotations per minute. Then two weeks later, it will deploy
a 20-meter (66 feet) diagonal square solar array blanket which will
surround the rotating core.

The solar sail is only .0075 mm or .0003 of an inch thick, according to JAXA.

The
solar array blanket is supported by four masts, and it will be these
masts which will support the very thin polyimide solar cells.

The
IKAROS demonstration will pave the way for a larger platform which will
span 50 meters (164 feet) across as JAXA launches a solar sail probe
toward Jupiter late this year.

 Japan's Venus spacecraft will arrive this November in it's orbit.