Jaxa: Hayabusa brought back space dust / The longest round-trip of mankind ends in success

November 16th, 2010  |  Published in Mobility & Space, On the TechWatch, TechWatch Japan

A graphic of the touch down of Hayabusa on Itokawa. In actuality, it was a bit messier. Source: Jaxa.

After months of careful analysis the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has claimed a total success of the longest round-trip ever of a man-made spacecraft. Today Jaxa announced, that its asteroid exploration spacecraft “Hayabusa” (Falcon) really brought back dust from the asteroid Itokawa.

Quote: “Based on the results of the scanning electron microscope (SEM) observations and analyses of samples that were collected with a special spatula from sample catcher compartment “A”, about 1,500 grains were identified as rocky particles, and most of them were judged to be of extraterrestrial origin, and definitely from Asteroid Itokawa.”

Although the seize of the particles is minute, mostly less than 10 micrometers, are an astonishing achievement for the very ambitious Hayabusa project. Hayabusa started seven years ago, flew to the asteroid, touched down and came back – despite huge troubles.

With this feat the Jaxa has proven, that interplanetary flights are possible, said project leader Junichiro Kawaguchi at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (the TechWatcher published excerpts in German here). “We have opened the door for round trips.”

Several times his team thought, that their Falcon was doomed. Even after it had returned on June 13 and had dropped the capsule successfully in the Australian Woomera desert, the Jaxa scientists were not sure, whether they would be able to call the seven year round-trip a complete success. The reason: The probe collection mechanism had not worked properly during the touch down on Itokawa.

Source: Jaxa

Now they can start the real work: Examining the space dust. Looking at the size of the particles, it will be quite an achievement as well, if they found out anything of value. But whether the result of the test don’t really matter, because they have proven that ion engines and autonomous navigation can work over long distances. That alone is encouraging for deep space exploration.

The Jaxa already started other endeavors, the solar sailing boat Ikaros uses the solar winds to fly to Venus. And also Hayabusa 2 is in the pipeline. But next time, it would not return to earth, but park in one of the “Lagrange points”, where the gravitational and centrifugal forces of two celestial bodies cancel each other out. In this points spacecrafts could rest like satellites in geostationary orbit. Therefore, the Lagrange points are considered to be the ideal location of space stations.

Here a link to the homepage of Hayabusa >>>

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