If you’ve been reading Urban Astronomer from the beginning, you’ll know that I was a big fan of the Japanese Space Agency’s (JAXA) Hayabusa mission. Naturally, I’m thrilled to hear that JAXA have recently announced Hayabusa 2, which will hopefully perform a little better than the first attempt.
Hayabusa (meaning ‘Falcon’) was a robotic spacecraft equipped with an explosive harpoon and cutting-edge ion propulsion engines, sent out to collect samples from the asteroid Itokawa and bring them home. Unfortunately, the mission suffered an unbelievable number of malfunctions, with numerous systems (everything from the engines to the power supply to the sampling harpoon itself) failing one after the other. Still, with a great deal of ingenuity and persistence, mission controllers managed to not only limp the stricken craft home (only three years late!) but actually found useable samples in the cannisters which were parachuted back to Earth!
Hayabusa 2 will be slightly different from its parent. It will be visiting asteroid 1999 JU3 (a roughly spherical asteroid, a bit under a kilometer in diameter) using the same ion engines, but the guidance and navigation systems, the steering and the antennae have all be redesigned to be more reliable. The sampler will also use a much more gentle operation than its predecessor – instead of being blasted into the target like a harpoon, it will approach gently and then detonate an explosive charge to dislodge surface material, which should scoop a much larger sample into the cannisters.
I have high hopes for this mission. Here’s to Hayabusa 2, may she complete her mission with the minimum of fuss, and bring home the maximum amount of space dirt!