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Space Science

Hayabusa Returns Particles From Asteroid 100

The collection module of Japan's Hayabusa spacecraft, as recently noted, was on recovery believed to contain no samples from the asteroid Hayausa it had been sent to investigate. That conclusion may have been premature; reader mbone writes that "The BBC now has a story, 'Hayabusa capsule particles may be from asteroid.' Apparently JAXA (the Japanese Space Agency) has opened the sample container returned to Earth by Hayabusa, and has released 'images of tiny dust particles inside the container.' Whether they are asteroid particles or pieces of dust brought all the way from Earth remains to be seen, but they were certainly returned from the asteroid — a remarkable technical feat. This announcement, I think, gives considerable hope that these particles are from the near-Earth asteroid, Itokawa, as the Japanese have been very careful in trying to avoid contamination. Even a tiny speck of dust would be very revealing about the asteroid's constitution and possibly its history as well. Kudos to JAXA for a job well done."
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Hayabusa Returns Particles From Asteroid

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  • by IndustrialComplex ( 975015 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @11:08AM (#32811312)

    ...the fact that they managed to land on a moving asteroid is amazing. The fact that they were able to land on a moving asteroid, take off from that asteroid after landing, and successfully make it back to Earth is nothing short of astounding.

    Especially considering that portion of the mission was secondary. It's primary mission was to test the ion engines.

    Of course, setting the bar relatively low is very common for these sorts of activities. The Mars Rovers had what, a 90-day, mission? Spirit was functional (in some form) for over 6 years. Opportunity is still functional since January 2004.

    Of course the 90 days was just the 'minimum for justification of the mission' and the 'warranty' period of the rovers (The minimum amount of time that they were expected to operate). But like Scotty, with an absurd over-estimate (or in this case, under-estimate) when you shatter that estimate it makes you look pretty spectacular. (Or just really bad at estimates)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @11:40AM (#32811804)

    It is probably more accurate to say that Hayabusa was parked next to the asteroid, which in itself is quite an accomplishment.

    That was the plan, but oops [planetary.org], MINERVA, the detachable mini-lander, missed, and went sailing off into deep space.

    For the sampling mission, the plan was to make brief contact with the sample-grabbing-gadget, but the probe actually sat there for 30 minutes [isas.jaxa.jp]. Then it popped back up, and tried again a few days later.

    Maybe it had a weight of a tenth of a gram in the feeble gravity of a 500-meter rubble pile, but it's technically correct (the best kind of correct!) to say that not only did Hayabusa land on an asteroid, it landed twice on the asteroid.

    Kudos to JAXA for a job well-done, and the image of Earth on final approach was just sweet. Totally unnecessary to verify that the probe was on target, but taken just because after 7 years of mission-threatening failures, it was good to be home. (Even if its last thoughts were "I wonder if it'll be friends with me?" in reference to the wind, not the ground :)

  • by JamesP ( 688957 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @12:18PM (#32812506)

    Curiously enough the ion engines failed big on this one...

    they had 3 engines. They would stop working, then get back to work, etc. They had to "take parts" of one ion engine and fit it on another engine (all electrically of course)

  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @12:46PM (#32812916) Homepage

    Good thing they're doing the opposite of scaling back their program, broadening their cutting edge research along with their budget, and freeing up all the money wasted developing an in-house vehicle. NASA will be able to pursue more missions similar to what JAXA has done, testing new forms of propulsion and automated systems etc. Things that would not be possible if we kept pursuing an Apollo repeat that does nothing to advance us, just proves we can still do what we did 40 years ago, like a man in a mid-life crisis whose big ambition in life is to simply repeat what he did in high school.

    Or put another way: If you're impressed by this mission, or at least what it was trying to achieve, and want to see NASA do things like it, then you should be 100% for the new plan.

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