April 17, 2014

13.06.10: Hayabusa: a Sample Return Update.

  14.06.10 Update: They got it… as of this writing, it looks like the sample return capsule safely touched down in the Australian desert intact!
A long trip home! (Credit: JAXA).  
A long journey home! (Credit: JAXA).
Earth looming as seen from Hayabusa. (Credit: JAXA).
Earth looming as seen from Hayabusa. (Credit: JAXA).
  (Note: As of this writing, the search for the sample return capsule is still underway in the Australian outback… expect updates here and on our Twitter feed as the day unfolds!) 

  Hayabusa returned to Earth today, lighting up the skies over the Australian outback and the Woomera restricted zone slightly before 10:00 AM EDT. Good captures of the fireball and the re-entry were confirmed, and the probe burned up after releasing the sample return capsule to plunge over the Australian desert. But the big mystery remains; did Hayabusa in fact capture and return a sample of asteroid Itokawa, and in doing so succeed in a first ever sample return from an asteroid? Of course, we may not truly know the answer to this long awaited tale for some time, as engineers must first recover and retrieve the capsule for further analysis. All indications were that the sample stirring pellet gun did not fire during the asteroid encounter, but there’s always the slim chance that material may have gotten stirred up and caught in the sample retrieval horn. Hayabusa slammed into the atmosphere today at a terrific speed of 27,000 mph, one of the fastest re-entries ever attempted. All space fans were present watching the action in the Australian night via Twitter and UStream, further evidence that the realm of new school media has in fact arrived. NASA & SETI’s joint reentry observation program was also aloft in a DC-8 for the event, watching to grab a spectroscopic analysis of the fireball as it plunged to Earth. The trail seen was quite bright, lighting up the thin scud of clouds as viewed from the surface.  Robin Whittle and his Wife Tina reported a fireball “brighter than Venus” from their locale 25 km west southwest of Port Augusta. Re-entry came at an angle of 10 degrees and had to endure temperatures of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit during the decent. Toasts were raised worldwide as Hayabusa made its heroic return, a triumph for the Japanese Aerospace eXploration Agency (JAXA). Doubtless, it’ll be days to weeks for engineers to sort out the after action data; for example, scientists are still going over the Stardust aerogel returned from comet Wild years later.   A search of the Australian outback is underway and we’ll post more pics as we see em throughout the day… Kampai, Hayabusa! 


Video of the fireball in the Australian night… 

01:00 PM EDT: More dramatic pics have just come in via JAXA and the NASA/SETI team…

Image via JAXA's All Sky Observation System... (Credit: JAXA).

Hayabusa re-entry as seen by the JAXA Ground all-sky observation network. (Credit: JAXA).

  …and the most recent images from the joint SETI/NASA airborn observation program;

 Hayabusa re-entry...is that the sample return package flying formation to the right? (Credit: NASA/SETI).

Re-entry as seen from the air; is that a sample return capsule I see flying in formation to the lower right? (Credit: NASA/SETI).