Japanese Asteroid Sample-return Spacecraft HAYABUSA Arrives Itokawa

Sep 14, 2005
Asteroid Sample-return Spacecraft HAYABUSA Arrives Itokawa

Japanese asteroid sample-return spacecraft Hayabusa arrived Itokawa on 10:00 am, 12 Sep (JST: Japanese Standard Time). Now Hayabusa hovers around 20 kilometers away from asteroid Itokawa. Hayabusa will bring back samples from an asteroid and investigate the mysteries of the birth of the solar system.

This picture was taken at 8:35 am, 12 Sep (JST) just before the settlement by the visible imager AMICA. Field of view is two degrees.

The photo shows contrast of rocky and hilly region and smooth area, which may suggest the origin of this asteroid. This feature may be a key to consider Itokawa’s origin and evolution.
The scientific observation will be conducted for about two months including sampling and topographic measurement.

Color composite image will be available soon.

HAYABUSA’s mission: to bring back samples from an asteroid and investigate the mysteries of the birth of the solar system.

HAYABUSA (MUSES-C) has been developed to investigate asteroids. Asteroids are celestial bodies that are smaller than planets but are part of the solar system. HAYABUSA was launched on May 9th, 2003, and has been flying steadily towards an asteroid named "Itokawa," after the late Dr. Hideo Itokawa, the father of Japan’s space development program. HAYABUSA is traveling through space using an ion engine. It will orbit the asteroid, land on it, and bring back a sample from its surface.

Until now, the only extra-terrestrial celestial body from which we have gathered samples is the Moon. But since the matter that comprises large bodies such as the planets and the Moon has changed over time due to thermal processes, these bodies cannot provide us with a pristine record of the solar system. Asteroids, on the other hand, are believed to be small enough to have preserved the state of the early solar system and are sometimes referred to as celestial fossils. A soil sample from an asteroid can give us clues about the raw materials that made up planets and asteroids in their formative years, and about the state of the inside of a solar nebula around the time of the birth of the planets. However small the sample amount may be, its scientific significance is tremendous.

HAYABUSA’s mission will play an important role in future space-probe journeys.

HAYABUSA employs a new technology - the ion engine. This engine first ionizes the propellant gas, Xenon, then electrically accelerates and emits the ions, to propel itself forward. As it is a highly efficient engine, it is expected to be an important technological tool for our future exploration of the Moon and the planets. HAYABUSA will demonstrate this technology.

Another innovation that HAYABUSA will demonstrate is the Autonomous Navigation System, which enables the probe to approach a far-away asteroid without human guidance. The system works by measuring the distance to the asteroid with the Optical Navigation Camera, and using Light Detection and Ranging.

HAYABUSA will not only gather samples but also observe the asteroid with various scientific devices and measures. For that purpose, it is equipped with a Telescope Wide-View Cameras and Light Detection and Ranging, as well as with a Near Infrared Spectrometer. It will also employ a hopping robot, which can move around on the asteroid’s surface. When HAYABUSA returns to Earth, a re-entry capsule bearing a surface sample from the asteroid will separate from it and plunge into the Earth’s atmosphere. This is also a very important experiment in space engineering.

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

Explore further: Far from home: Wayward cluster is both tiny and distant

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Ten interesting facts about asteroids

Feb 03, 2015

At first glance, looking at a bunch of space rocks doesn't sound that exciting. Like, aren't they just a bunch of rubble? What use can they be in understanding the Solar System compared to looking at planets ...

Are asteroids the future of planetary science?

Jan 27, 2015

I don't think I ever learned one of those little rhymes – My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas – to memorize the order of the planets, but if I had, it would've painted for me a minimalist ...

What other worlds have we landed on?

Jan 14, 2015

Think of all the different horizons humans have viewed on other worlds. The dust-filled skies of Mars. The Moon's inky darkness. Titan's orange haze. These are just a small subset of the worlds that humans ...

Japanese space explorer to blow crater in asteroid

Dec 03, 2014

A Japanese space explorer took off Wednesday on a six-year journey to blow a crater in a remote asteroid and bring back rock samples in hopes of gathering clues to the origin of Earth.

Bad weather delays Japan asteroid probe lift off

Nov 28, 2014

Bad weather will delay the launch of a Japanese space probe on a six-year mission to mine a distant asteroid, just weeks after a European spacecraft's historic landing on a comet captivated the world.

Recommended for you

Far from home: Wayward cluster is both tiny and distant

8 hours ago

Like the lost little puppy that wanders too far from home, astronomers have found an unusually small and distant group of stars that seems oddly out of place. The cluster, made of only a handful of stars, ...

Why don't we search for different life?

12 hours ago

If we really want to find life on other worlds, why do we keep looking for life based on carbon and water? Why don't we look for the stuff that's really different?

OSIRIS catches glimpse of Rosetta's shadow

13 hours ago

Several days after Rosetta's close flyby of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 14 February 2015, images taken on this day by OSIRIS, the scientific imaging system on board, have now been downlinked to Earth. ...

Kamikaze comet loses its head

14 hours ago

Like coins, most comet have both heads and tails. Occasionally, during a close passage of the Sun, a comet's head will be greatly diminished yet still retain a classic cometary outline. Rarely are we left ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.