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Japanese get some Asteroid!

PostPosted: Mon Jun 14, 2010 3:31 pm
by smeggypants
Japanese get some Asteroid!

Pretty Amazing really!

The Japanese space capsule which landed in the Australian Outback on Sunday night (local time) has been recovered.

The Hayabusa pod was picked up by a helicopter team and transferred to a control centre on the Woomera Prohibited Area.

The canister, which is believed to hold the first samples ever grabbed from the surface of an asteroid, will now be shipped to Tokyo.

The Japanese space agency (Jaxa) says the capsule looks to be intact.

The return was the culmination of a remarkable seven-year adventure, which saw Hayabusa visit asteroid Itokawa in 2005 and attempt to pluck dust from its surface before firing its engines for home.

The $200m mission encountered many technical problems, from being hit by a solar flare to experiencing propulsion glitches. But each time an issue came up, the Japanese project team found an elegant solution to keep Hayabusa alive and bring it back to Earth - albeit three years late.

The re-entry on Sunday, at 1351 GMT, produced a spectacular fireball in the Australian night sky.

The main spacecraft broke apart in a shower of light.

As these bright streaks faded, a single point could then be seen racing to the ground. This was the capsule protected against the 3,000-degree heat generated in the fall by its carbon shield.

It took about an hour to locate the capsule by helicopter, its position tracked by radar and a beacon that was transmitting from inside the canister.

It was only when daylight came up on Monday, however, that a recovery team began to approach the 40cm-wide pod which was lying on the ground still attached to its parachute.


The heat-shield, which was dumped by the canister in the final moments before touch-down, was also located. Engineers will be keen to see how well it stood up to the 12km/s descent.

In the coming days, the capsule will be prepared for its transfer out of the country. Japanese, American and Australian scientists will open the canister in an ultra-clean, evacuated environment.

"The retrieved capsule will be transported to the Jaxa Sagamihara Campus in Kanagawa," Dr Keiji Tachikawa, the president of Jaxa, said in a statement.

"First, the sample container will be inspected, and then the content will be extracted for analysis. We hope to find the Itokawa's surface material in the capsule, and contribute to understanding the origin and evolution of the Solar System."

Even now, there is still some uncertainty as to whether the capsule really does contain pieces of Itokawa.

The Hayabusa spacecraft's capture mechanism was supposed to shoot a ball bearing at Itokawa when it landed to kick up rock inside a collection horn. An analysis of telemetry data suggests this mechanism may have malfunctioned at the crucial moment.

Nonetheless, scientists connected with the mission remain confident of success.

"It may have worked, it may not; we just don't know," said Dr Michael Zolensky from Nasa's Johnson Space Center.

"But even if it didn't work, the spacecraft landed for half an hour on the surface, and during that landing - it was a hard landing - it should have collected a sample even without firing anything. So, we're pretty confident there'll be something inside the spacecraft," he told BBC News.

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Japanese get some Asteroid!

PostPosted: Mon Jun 14, 2010 3:34 pm
by smeggypants
Looks like it was 5 years ago it actually touched down ...

Japanese get some Asteroid!

PostPosted: Mon Jun 14, 2010 6:05 pm
by Channel Hopper
smeggypants wrote:Looks like it was 5 years ago it actually touched down ...

The craft did stick around for a few months, and the recovery of the lander was somewhat complicated by the distance to the asteroid and various commands sent in panic.

A timeline, but I think the Wiki entry is more detailed.

But at least it is back, the next week or so will determine whether if brought back anything worthwhile.

Comets are more interesting however.

Image :hubba: