Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Japan has lots going on regarding asteroids.

First, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency or JAXA has unveiled their own asteroid hunting probe, Hayabusa-2. This probe will enjoy a four year voyage to the 1999JU3 asteroid. As it will not arrive until sometime in 2018, at that time it will release a powerful canon that will fire a metal bullet into the asteroid’s crust and then scoop up some samples of the debris that was loosened in that blast.

JAXA’s hope is that the samples collected will be returned to Earth by the time Tokyo hosts the Olympic Games in 2020. Certainly it would provide an interesting world stage for any announcements regarding data collected from the samples and give a lasting dose of national pride.

Another source of great pride for Japan came in the form of Hayabusa-2’s predecessor, Hayabusa (the first).The first Hayabusa was only able to collect surface dust samples which obviously would have been affected by the years of constant exposure to the various energies encountered in space. (Perhaps Dark Energy among others?) It’s journey was a long seven years filed with a loss of communications, damage to its motors, and yet JAXA’s skill in getting Hayabusa to return to Earth made it a source of pride.

AND NOW Hayabusa-2 will embark on the next phase of this project. Containing tons of organic material and water, asteroid 1999JU3 has much to offer versus the rock studied by its predecessor

25143 Itokawa was the asteroid that time around. A potato shaped asteroid that originally Hayabusa’s mini-lander named MINERVA (short for MIcro/Nano Experimental Robot Vehicle for Asteroid) was to land and explore. Unfortunately the solar powered vehicle that had planned to take advantage of Itokawa’s low gravity failed following an error during deployment.  The release order arrived from Earth during an automated altitude keeping sequence and so resulted in MINERVA being released at a higher altitude than anticipated and hence escaping the gravitational pull. If it had succeeded it would have been the first space hopper to see action but alas joins the ranks with the hopper carried on the failed Phobos 2 mission.

Speaking of other hoppers, Rosetta’s hopper, Philae, is surrounded by much excitement as the ESA’s spacecraft has already successfully rendezvoused with her comet and is transmitting back wondrous images. The spacecraft will ride alongside the comet for the next year and as early as November will send down the Lander Philae.

Now back to JAXA and Hayabusa-2 and to the canon involved. This huge weapon, this canon, wil be used when Hayabusa-2 has reached its destination. When Hayabusa-2 is hovering above its target, the asteroid, it will release the space canon which is intended to drift gently to the surface. Hayabusa will shift around the asteroid to the shelter offered on the other side while the canon detonates itself, hurling a large bullet-like object at the surface. Hayabusa-2’s sensor array protected from any debris or shrapnel, once the dust has cleared, Hayabusa-2 will come around and examine the crater, touch down on the surface to scoop up some samples for analysis here on Earth and head back our way.

It is expected that the blast of the rock will offer much scientific detail and provide part of the puzzle for researchers seeking to understand how planets are formed. AND MAYBE, just maybe, they can learn a bit about where life forms came from.


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