[meteorite-list] Hayabusa 2 Launches on Audacious Asteroid Adventure
From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Tue, 2 Dec 2014 23:35:05 -0800 (PST)
Hayabusa 2 launches on audacious asteroid adventure
by Stephen Clark
December 3, 2014
A Japanese H-2A launcher blasted off from an idyllic island spaceport
Tuesday, dispatching a daring six-year expedition to bring a piece of
an asteroid back to Earth.
The Hayabusa 2 mission's roundtrip voyage began at 0422 GMT Wednesday
(11:22 p.m. EST Tuesday) with a thunderous ascent from Tanegashima Space
Center in southern Japan.
The 1,300-pound spacecraft rode a hydrogen-fueled H-2A rocket through
clouds hanging over the seaside spaceport, leaving a twisting column of
exhaust in its wake before disappearing hundreds of miles over the Pacific
The rocket's upper stage engine fired two times to accelerate Hayabusa
2 on a speedy departure fast enough to break free of the pull of Earth's
The robotic explorer, packed with four stowaway landers to be deployed
to the asteroid's surface, separated from the H-2A rocket at 0609 GMT
(1:09 a.m. EST). Applause could be heard in a live webcast of the launch
provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, which manages the
Hayabusa 2 mission.
The launch marked the opening chapter in the most ambitious mission to
an asteroid ever attempted. The roundtrip journey will take six years
to complete, and Hayabusa 2 promises to expand scientists' understanding
of how asteroids may have seeded Earth with water and organic molecules,
the building blocks of life.
Hayabusa 2 is heading for asteroid 1999 JU3, a carbon-rich world just
900 meters - about 3,000 feet - across with a tenuous gravity field 60,000
times weaker than Earth's.
The mission follows up on the achievements of Japan's Hayabusa 1 probe,
which made the first roundtrip flight to an asteroid from 2003 to 2010.
The first Hayabusa mission encountered several crippling problems, including
a fuel leak, failures in its pointing system, and a glitch with the craft's
sample collection system.
Despite the challenges, the spacecraft returned to Earth in 2010 - a few
years late and carrying a fraction of the asteroid specimens intended.
But Japanese scientists found microscopic samples from asteroid Itokawa
- Hayabusa 1's research subject - inside the probe's landing vehicle.
The success vaulted Japan into the big leagues of solar system exploration.
"Many scientific milestones have been achieved from asteroid observations
and samples from the asteroid Itokawa," said Tetsuo Tanaka, associate
director general of JAXA's Lunar and Planetary Exploration Program Group.
"Going to a far-off asteroid and returning with samples from it for the
first time, these are tremendous technological challenges and our success
in meeting them has brought worldwise admiration."
"For the Hayabusa 2 project, Japan's development of its own deep space
exploration technology aims to lead the world in that technical field,"
Tanaka said. "The Hayabusa 2 project sets new challenges for Japan's unique
technologies. How we face those challenges and how we use (the) project
results will surely bring new impacts to the world."
Artist's concept of the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft at asteroid 1999 JU3. Credit:
But Hayabusa's troubles meant it was prudent for engineers to make changes
on Hayabusa 2.
"We changed a lot of parts on Hayabusa 2," said Hitoshi Kuninaka, JAXA's
Hayabusa 2 program manager. "We installed four reaction wheels, and Hayabusa
1 had only three. The sampling system also has some improvements. Our
operations software was upgraded for better proximity operations around
Hayabusa 2's electrically-powered ion engines were upgraded to produce
more thrust, and engineers installed a Ka-band antenna to beam data back
to Earth at four times the rate possible on the first Hayabusa mission.
"Many scientific milestones have been schieved from asteroid oobservations
and samples from the asteroid itokawa. going to a far off asteroid and
returning with samples from it for the first time. these are tremendous
technological challenges and our success in meeting them has brought worldwise
Japan has gained unique exploration experience through projects like Yayabusa,
Kaguya and Kkaros.
For the Hayabusa 2 project, Japan's development of its own deep space
exploration technology aims to lead the world in that technical field.
he Hayabusa 2 project sets new challenges for Japan's unique technologies.
Wow we face those challenges and how we use project results will surely
bring new impacts to the world.
The spacecraft will arrive at the asteroid in June 2018 after swinging
by Earth late next year to get a boost to the mission's destination, which
circles the sun between the orbits of Earth and Mars.
The probe will initially park itself 20 kilometers, or about 12 miles,
from the asteroid for a comprehensive survey with a set of spectrometers,
cameras, and other sensors to map the tiny world.
Then scientists will start to look for suitable sites on the asteroid
to put down four diminutive landing drones and scoop up samples for return
Hayabusa 2 will spend a year-and-a-half at asteroid 1999 JU3, enough time
for the probe to pick up rock specimens from three different locations
on the unexplored asteroid.
One of the samples is supposed to come from material excavated from beneath
the asteroid's surface. Hayabusa 2 will use explosives to fire a copper
impactor laden into the asteroid to carve an artificial crater, exposing
underground pristine rocks for the probe to pick up during a touch-and-go
"The most difficult operations are, I think, the impactor operations,"
Kuninaka said. "Scientists want to get materials from inside of the asteroid,
so we developed the impactor - That is a very difficult operation. Once
we release the impactor from the asteroid, it will be ignited about 40
minutes later. We cannot stop that ignition, so before the ignition the
spacecraft will do an escape maneuver to the other side of the asteroid,
and the time is very limited. We have to do the escape maneuver so the
spacecraft will avoid serious damage from the impactor. I think that is
one of the most difficult operations we have ever done."
The spacecraft's sampling mechanism works by shooting a small bullet into
the asteroid after it dips down to the surface. When the bullet fires
while Hayabusa 2's sampling funnel is in contact with the asteroid, engineers
believe bits of gravely rock will be blasted through a tube into a collection
chamber for storage inside the mission's return capsule.
Hayabusa 2 carries four landers, including a 22-pound robot named MASCOT
built by the same team that managed the Philae comet lander that touched
down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Nov. 12.
Three other landing craft built in Japan will also descend to the asteroid
during Hayabusa 2's mission.
The landers are mobile and will use mechanisms to hop across the asteroid
to study its environment from several locations.
"We are going to operate simultaneously a large group of robotics on the
surface of the asteroid," Kuninaka said. "That will be an immense engineering
challenge to operate many robots at the same time on the asteroid."
Once the mission's work at the asteroid is complete, Hayabusa 2 will leave
and heard for Earth in December 2019.
Hayabusa 2 will release a container with the asteroid samples for a blazing
re-entry through Earth's atmosphere for a parachute-assisted landing in
the Australian outback in December 2020.
In an interview with Spaceflight Now before the launch, Kuninaka said
Hayabusa 2 has a dual purpose as a machine for scientific discovery and
a testbed for new technologies that could advance space exploration.
"Learning about asteroids is important for the future of space exploration,"
Kuninaka said. "This is a difficult mission, but in order for humans to
expand from Earth into space, it will be necessary to meet challenges.
We need a lot of technology and information about the solar system, and
Hayabusa 2 will make a big step in these areas to help us be ready to
plan and collaborate in the next step of space exploration."
Received on Wed 03 Dec 2014 02:35:05 AM PST