Tag Archives: Hayabusa 2

Hayabusa 2 has arrived!

JAXA has confirmed the engine burn to allow Ryugu to capture Hayabusa 2.  Up close, the asteroid doesn’t look quite as clearly octahedral, but it’s still showing a remarkable diamond silhouette.  The surface is battered, but not in the manner we’re used to seeing with larger bodies.  The craters have soft edges, and the surface in general looks more like a clump of fine particles with occasional rocks stuck in it, probably reflecting a relatively loose composition.

The spacecraft is expected to stay at Ryugu for 18 months, during which it will make a series of daring touch-and-go landings, deploy a series of landing vehicles, and even launch an impactor at the asteroid.  It will also attempt to collect material using a feed horn device similar to that used on the original Hayabusa.  At the end of its stay, Hayabusa 2 will fire its engines to leave orbit around Ryugu and head back to Earth, with arrival scheduled for 2020.  The original mission returned only a tiny amount of material, but enough to make comparisons to what Hayabusa 2 will return.  The exciting part of the mission is only just beginning!


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A D8 in Space: Hayabusa 2 spots Ryugu

The second Japanese asteroid sample return mission is underway, and it’s spotted its target, the Apollo-group asteroid 162173 Ryugu.  And what do you know?  Most asteroids so far have looked like potatoes, but this one makes me think of an eight-sided die:

These images, taken with the ONC-T (Optical Navigation Camera – Telescopic) instrument at ranges from 330 to 240 km as the spacecraft approaches the asteroid, show that Ryugu is spinning like a top, completing one revolution every 7.6 hours.

Hayabusa 2 is expected to enter orbit around Ryugu next week, and will commence a lengthy period of orbital observations leading up to a series of daring landings in which it will sample material from the asteroid.  It will also deploy a number of mini spacecraft, including an impactor (with an explosive charge) to excavate fresher material for sample, a German/French hopping lander named MASCOT and partially based on the design of Philae (the piggyback lander from the Rosetta mission), and three Japanese rovers.  It’s an ambitious mission, and we’ll soon start to get into the interesting bit.  😉

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Space Probe Catchup: Hayabusa 2, Curiosity, New Horizons, and Dawn – Occator Crater revealed!

I’ve been busy lately, so I have not had much time to write, so here’s the latest on three different deep space probes!

First off, Hayabusa 2 made a successful flyby of the Earth on December 3, flying about 3,090 km above Hawaii at closest approach.  The spacecraft was performing a gravity assist maneuver, and controllers now report the maneuver was performed flawlessly: Hayabusa 2 is right on target to encounter asteroid 162173 Ryugu in 2018.  Hayabusa 2 is a follow-on to the original Hayabusa mission, which encountered serious difficulties but still managed to return samples from asteroid 25143 Itokawa.  Hayabusa 2 builds on the lessons learned from that mission and should be able to return much larger samples, scheduled for 2018.  It will also deploy a set of landers, both Japanese and European.

Earth from Hayabusa 2, just after the gravity assist.  Summer has reached the South Pole.

Earth from Hayabusa 2, just after the gravity assist. Summer has reached the South Pole.

Here’s a fantastic animation showing its flight:

Next, Curiosity!

The Mars Science Lander “Curiosity” is now well into its mission exploring Mount Sharp in the center of Gale Crater.  Its latest object of interest is a field of sand dunes.  The going will be difficult, and the team will be very cautious, since it was sand dunes that irretrievably mired MER-A “Spirit”.  This is the rippled surface of “High Dune”, within a dune field named Bagnold Dunes.


The texture and particles are very intriguing, and Curiosity may learn a lot when it samples them.  They’ve already used the wheels to help get a peek below the surface:



And still New Horizons returns data!

The probe is continuing its long, slow plod through the enormous data set that it collected at Pluto.  Color data is now available for those high resolution images taken at closest approach, and it only looks wilder:


Click for the larger image.  It’s really quite weird looking.  The geology must involve some processes that simply don’t happen on Earth, although some of it looks distinctly familiar to our eyes.

Last but not least, Dawn!

Dawn has continued studying 1 Ceres, the closest of the dwarf planets, and there is new information on the mysterious lights in Occator Crater!   Occator Crater has by far the brightest spots on Ceres, but the small world is sprinkled with bright spots.  New spectrographic analysis is consistent with all of those spots being a salt called hexahydrite, which is a type of magnesium sulfate.  Furthermore, all of the spots are associated with impact craters.  This allows them to rule out ice volcanism.  They  believe the spots are salt left behind after water sublimated away following impacts which exposed a briny water layer just below Ceres’ crust.  They aren’t yet suggesting that layer to be liquid, by the way.  It could well be ice, which would rapidly boil away in the sunlight this close to the Sun.  (Ceres is near the limit of our Sun’s golidlocks zone.)  Occator Crater they think is brightest because of relative youth, and possibly also a more energetic impact digging deeper into this layer.  It appears that the water may not have finished sublimating away from Occator Crater, as there is evidence of water vapor accumulating in the crater from both Dawn and also the Herschel Space Observatory.

Another team was analyzing for evidence of ammonia compounds on Ceres, and came up with a lot of evidence, locked up in clays.  This is particularly interesting because surface ammonia is even more volatile than water; that Ceres has some suggests it formed further away from the Sun than its present position.  Perhaps interactions with the giant planets pushed it in.  Ceres is also unusually rich in water ice for a main belt asteroid, which would tend to suggest the same thing.

Here is a color-enhanced image of Ceres rotating.  The enhanced colors help to pick out subtle differences but should not be interpreted as what the human eye would see.

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LISA Flies, Cygnus Waits, and Hayabusa 2 Waves

The Atlas V launch of the OA-4 Cygnus flight was scrubbed due to bad weather at the Cape — mostly rain and fog at the launch site.  They will try again tomorrow, but there is only a 30% chance of favorable weather.  The forecast remains gloomy for several days, after which they start running into conflicts with ISS scheduling as there are other vehicles scheduled to visit the ISS this months.  Cross your fingers!

But the Vega launch of LISA Pathfinder was a complete success!  The technology demonstrator for the upcoming multinational LISA gravity probe mission is on its way to L1.

And last of all, the Japanese Hayabusa 2 probe visited Earth today, zipping on past to tweak its course to asteroid 162173 Ryugu.  This is a follow-on from the partially successful Hayabusa probe, which performed the first sample return from an asteroid, but incorporating lessons learned from that spacecraft, so this one should perform even better.  Here’s an animation of the flyby:

And here’s a view of Earth and Moon taken by Hayabusa 2 while on a approach a few days ago:


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Hayabusa 2 is on its way!

Japan’s second sample return mission is on its way to an Apollo-class asteroid, an unnamed asteroid designated  (162173) 1999 JU3.  It uses ion thrusters for propulsion and carries four tiny landers equipped to scoop up samples for return to Earth, in addition to an impactor that is intended to excavate a deeper sampling location for the spacecraft.  Three of the four landers are Japanese, and the fourth is MASCOT, built by the same ESA team that built Philae, putting them in the lovely position of celebrating the landing of one space craft less than a month before celebrating the launch of another.

Enjoy the launch!  This is a H-2A rocket, built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and launched from Tanegashima Space Center.

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