[meteorite-list] Japan Tests Asteroid-Blasting 'Space Cannon' (Hayabusa 2)

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Fri, 25 Oct 2013 16:08:17 -0700 (PDT)
Message-ID: <201310252308.r9PN8HOK029479_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Japan tests asteroid-blasting 'space cannon'

Japan's space agency conducted a successful test this week of its 'space
cannon,' designed to embark on a mission to blast a crater in an an asteroid
next year.

By Elizabeth Barber
The Christian Science Monitor
October 25, 2013

Japan's space agency conducted a successful test this week of its "space
cannon," expected to depart on a mission to shoot an asteroid in 2014,
as part of the Hayabusa 2 mission.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) plans to launch space probe
Hayabusa 2 to an asteroid next year, in hopes of sampling a class of asteroids
expected to be rich in organic materials. The mission is expected to help
astronomers better understand the relationship between asteroid organic
materials and those found on Earth, as well as to burnish Japan's reputation
as a top space explorer.

The news comes just one month after JAXA launched into space its Epsilon
rocket, a cost-effective rocket that runs on automated systems, not human
operators. The rocket has been billed as heralding a new generation of
high-tech spacecraft, along with Japan's reentry to the forefront of Earth's
foray into the final frontier, after decades of intermittent space flops.

In 1970, Japan had become the third country to put a satellite in space,
after the United States and the former Soviet Union. But, since then,
the island nation has had a checkered relationship with space exploration,
the New York Times reported in 2010.

Japan has never put a person in space, though it has an ongoing manned
spaceflight program, with the hope of launching an astronaut in 2025.
Japan's Akatsuki probe, slated to orbit Venus, missed the piping hot planet
two years ago and veered for the sun. Two Japanese satellites were lost
in just three months in 2000. A 1998 probe launched for Mars missed the
Red Planet.

The latest project, Hayabusa 2, is not an asteroid destruction mission
- unlike the planet-destroying Death Star in "Star Wars," Hayabusa 2 is
not primed to boom a giant hunk of rock out of existence. Instead, the
probe's so-called cannon is intended to put an artificial crater into
the target, the C-type asteroid 1999 JU3, with a 4-pound projectile, exposing
subsurface material. Hayabusa 2, which will have detached from the canon
and gone to "hide behind the asteroid" while the cannon does the explosive
work, will then sample the material, believed to be rich in water and
organic matter.

The craft, set to depart in 2014, is expected to reach the asteroid in
June 2018. It is due to return to Earth in December 2020.

Three years ago, Japan's first iteration of the probe, the Hayabusa ("falcon,"
in Japanese), made the first ever round-trip mission to an asteroid. Its
seven-year trip to and from the Itokawa asteroid, a member of the common
S-type of asteroids, brought back for Japan samples that would go on to
answer an outstanding question in astronomy: why don't meteorites that
fall to Earth appear to come from the asteroid belt?

Well, it turns out they do, reported Hayabusa. Based on remote recordings
of asteroid's spectral colors, astronomers had once though that S-type
asteroids were too red to be the source of meteorites. But, the Hayabusa
team reported, the solar wind had been responsible for distorting the
observed colors of asteroids - S-types were not so red, after all. In
fact, Hayabusa's asteroid dust samples turned out to be a compositional
match to meteorites. Case closed.

In 2011, the scientific journal Science named the Hayabusa one of the
year's scientific breakthroughs. But it was a mission not without pitfalls.
Before Hayabusa touched down and unfurled its asteroid samples, the world
had been prepared to call the mission an abject failure.

As Hayabusa headed for the asteroid, the spacecraft lost two of its three
attitude-controlling wheels, accidently deployed into deep space the small
rover that had been meant to tour the asteroid's surface, and struggled
to touch down on the asteroid. En route home, things went from bad to
worse. The craft short-circuited. It sprung a fuel leak. It lost communication
with Earth.

When Hayabusa's baseball-sized sample capsule did drop to Earth, to everyone's
surprise, it was three years late. JAXA at first reported that there was
nothing inside: no asteroid samples, it appeared, had even been collected.

Of course, everything turned out just fine: Hayabusa had collected about
100 tiny particles from the asteroid. But JAXA is taking no chances with
Hayabusa 2. The agency reports that problems identified in the craft's
predecessor have been identified and mended. It also says that Hayabusa
2 will have one advantage Hayabusa didn't get: letters from home.

In collaboration with the Planetary Society, JAXA is attaching chips full
of "support messages" from earthlings to the craft. The project is called
"Let's meet with Le Petit Prince!," in homage to Antoine de Saint-Exup?ry's
1943 novella about a celestial royal fallen to Earth from a small asteroid.

Meanwhile, NASA has hatched plans to send its own robotic capture vehicle
to an asteroid in 2018, bag it up, and then send a manned spacecraft to
sample it. If the project goes forward - the plan to snag an asteroid
has encountered political snags in Congress - it would be the first manned
mission an asteroid.
Received on Fri 25 Oct 2013 07:08:17 PM PDT

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